Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Unblogged Files: March

Oh my goodness, March was such a busy month for me!  Loads of events, eating out, cooking and a little travel.

I started the month with a weekend trip to the Goulburn Valley, visiting some of the towns up north along the Hume Highway.  (Disclosure: it was a complimentary media trip to promote the region, which I'll be blogging shortly). When we drove through Shepparton, I just had to stop and take this photo:

Krueger's German meat shop and "Erotic Nights" adult store.  Shepparton truly has it all!  Hehehe.

We celebrated my parents' thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, with dinner at Ezard.  The food was excellent, as usual, but the service was a little mechanical - apart from one fabulous waitress who was lovely, we really felt like the waitstaff were just phoning it in.
Cocktails and the famous caramelized pork hock - so good!

Ezard's Dessert Platter

Other eats of note with my parents this month were a lunch at Kenzan, whose sushi and sashimi platter I always love...
Kenzan's Sushi and Sashimi Assortment - $90
... and Yum Cha at Spice Temple.  The yum cha was a bit underwhelming, and extremely overpriced.  Of course, it's only expected that their yum cha would be more expensive than regular yum cha, what with premium ingredients, the lovely setting, and highly-trained and knowledgeable waitstaff who are willing and able to guide you through the menu.  However, despite all that, I still felt the price tag wasn't justified.  We paid $150 for lunch for four people, on food alone, and still left hungry.

Tea was charged at a minimum of $5 per person, and their small, individual "sandwiches" (crispy Guangxi pork slider, cumin lamb or white-cut chicken steamed bun) were priced at $9 each - an easy way of adding at least $56 to a meal without getting too much value in return.  I know the waitstaff were only trying to help when they said, "these sandwiches are served individually; would you like to order four?", but I couldn't help but feel like I was being upsold.    (Needless to say, we didn't order any tea or sandwiches).

Selection of Dishes at Spice Temple Yum Cha
In terms of the dishes themselves: most were pretty tasty.  The $12 shredded lamb shoulder buns (second from the right in the bottom row of the above photo) were particularly delicious, and we ordered two serves of them.  Most of the dumplings, in fact, were very good, but just very, very small.  All the dumplings in the bottom row were about the size of my thumb, and cost between $7 and $9.  (You'd need to order at least two plates of each to get anywhere close to a satisfying meal).  The only dish we really, really didn't like was the chicken with glutinous rice in lotus leaf ($10), which hardly had any pieces of chicken, lap cheong or mushrooms, and whose rice wasn't actually sticky.  My mum described it as: "pien lang" ("they're bluffing us").

Their egg tarts were priced at $8 each.  Each!  I must admit the egg tart I ordered was fabulous, with light and flaky pastry and a just-set warm egg custard, but still, it was certainly not $8 worth of fabulousness.  Perhaps if they'd done two mini-egg tarts, the price would have been justified, because at least you could have shared it!
$8 Egg Tart at Spice Temple

There were some good points to the yum cha, and my parents and I are glad we tried it, but I am absolutely sticking to their equally delicious and much better value dinners from now on.  On both my previous visits to Spice Temple, we spent a similar amount (including cocktails), and left much more satisfied!
Spice Temple on Urbanspoon

And speaking of parents, this month we also got a care package from Sandra's parents in Germany! Woot-woot!
Yes, you see that right: that's FOUR packets of Bauern Frühstück!  (Farmer's breakfast of fried sliced potatoes with egg and bacon, which you may remember from my previous post.)

I visited a lot of great cafes this month:

Pure Italian in North Balwyn for fab antipasti, rich coffee and interesting pasta dishes that were delicious, but a little heavy on the olive oil.
Pure Italian, North Balwyn
Three Bags Full in Richmond, which was much needed after a stressful trip to Ikea!  My dad loves their schnitzel sandwich in particular, because the bread isn't too hard.

Three Bags Full, Richmond
When I found myself in the CBD early one morning, I stopped in for breakfast at Kinfolk, on Bourke street.  (Thanks to @imakecake for the heads up!)  Being staffed almost entirely by volunteers, I wasn't sure what to expect, but the service was friendly, enthusiastic and efficient.  I suppose if you're working for free, you must really want to be there!  My avocado on rye toast with ricotta was very good - and only $8! - as was the coffee.

Kinfolk, Bourke Street

I also played tour guide one day to the lovely Kate and Rob, who were visiting from Brunei.  They had one day in Melbourne before embarking on their campervan adventure, and I just had to take them to St Ali for a taste of Melbourne inner-city converted-warehouse caffeinated goodness!  They loved the burgers, and I think they quite liked the warehousey vibe, and the fact that the cafe is "hidden" down a laneway with little signage!

St Ali, South Melbourne

It seems like winter has started to creep in, but I made the most of one of the last hot days of the year with a little drive to Chelsea beach.  It was so peaceful and gorgeous, and the water was so clear!
Chelsea Beach

Another highlight of the day was stopping off in Springvale for pho and iced coffee at Pho Hoang.  (Thanks to @honeycrackle for the recommendation!)
Pho at Pho Hoang, Springvale

Later that night, we went out for drinks and dumplings with Adrian and Chris!  This started with a yummy pitcher of an apple cocktail and some sausage rolls on the balcony at Madame Brussels.  I'd only ever been to Madame Brussels on Saturday nights before, when it's super-crowded, and was pleasantly surprised at how pleasant the atmosphere was on a sunny weeknight.

Madame Brussels
This was followed by dumplings at China Red, in the Village Arcade in Chinatown.  I loved using the touchscreen to order food, and the dumplings were really tasty!
Dumplings at China Red
The delicious dumplings were followed by what was perhaps the most bizarre eating experience of my life: dessert at Tom Turtle Cafe.  They're a new dessert cafe whose gimmick is that they serve their ice-cream in cubes.  It sounded interesting, and we thought it could be fun, so we decided to give it a go.  However, despite listing all sixty different flavours on the menu, we were told that because it was their opening week, you couldn't pick the flavours you wanted, but could only order expensive dessert plates with fixed flavour combinations - which only represented a fraction of their total flavours.  Er.... why?  Surely a new ice-cream cafe would want their customers to be able to actually try a decent range of their product!

See this below image they had displayed on the wall?  I wanted to eat that!  Boo.
Tom Turtle ice-cream cubes: only for picture, not for customers
After checking with her manager, the nice waitress finally let us buy one cube of guava ice-cream for $3 - which was tiny!  Yup, that spoon you see in the below picture was a TEASPOON.
$3 cube of guava ice-cream

In my mind, the only justification for insisting on set flavour combinations would be if they worked beautifully together and were absolutely amazing.  They weren't.  This below set was $16.50, and included cookies & cream, peanut brittle, apple pie and a couple of others.  All the cubes were icy and thin-tasting, and the apple pie cube had a strong artificial flavour.

$16.50 dessert plate
I must also say that I felt quite uncomfortable sitting in a practically empty cafe, being served by very young, very pretty, Asian girls in tight short-shorts, while a surly older white manager sat silently at his computer behind the counter.  I do want to stress that my negative impression of Tom Turtle is not a reflection on the waitresses themselves, who were all helpful and polite, but rather a reflection of the crap business model and poor quality product.

And if you look at their user reviews on Urbanspoon and Yelp, it looks like a couple of their positive user reviews were written by management or friends, with quotes like: "ice cream is of exceptional quality and the flavour really bursts through"; "I like Asian women"; and "The waitresses are all hot!".  Yurgh.
Tom Turtle on Urbanspoon 

Another night, we did dumplings and drinks for my friend Alaina's birthday.  I was a little wary about trying HuTong again, especially considering that my last visit was a total shambles, but this time the service was good and everything was delicious!  Yay!  The eggplant with scallops, in particular, was excellent!
Dinner at Hu Tong

Less excellent though, was the Haunted Melbourne Ghost Tour we took straight afterwards!  It was a walking tour of apparently haunted sites throughout the CBD, which sounded like it could be interesting!  Unfortunately though, it was really bad - they let almost one hundred people on the tour and we couldn't hear the tour guide at all.  What a waste of $20!  Oh well, at least we worked off those dumplings with all the walking!

The evening was saved with awesome drinks at The Kodiak Club on Brunswick street.  It's an American-style neighbourhood bar, with great cocktails and fab bar snacks.  They serve real tortilla chips, all hot and salty, and super-addictive hot Buffalo wings!
Tortilla Chips and Buffalo Wings at The Kodiac Club

Another venue we visited on Brunswick street this month was Yong Green Food.  It was my suggestion to catch up here, and I was glad my meat-loving friends were enthusiastic about the vegetarian offerings.  (I arrived slightly late and they'd already Urbanspooned the restaurant to get the low down on what the best dishes were!)
We shared a few dishes between the five of us.  Clockwise from top right: vegetarian pho; rawsagne (raw zucchini layered with cashew cream and other vegetables); kim chi tempeh sushi rolls, raw cashew bread open sandwich, and the macro dragon bowl with lemon tahini and miso soup.  My favourite was the dragon bowl, with its brown rice, mushrooms, tempeh, and gorgeous tahini sauce.

Desserts at Yong Green Food. Clockwise from left: Pecan pie; lemon raw cheesecake; green tea ganache
The raw desserts were more about novelty factor for me than the taste.  All were heavily based on coconut, and whilst I loved the texture in the green tea ganache, the coconut made the pecan pie and lemon cheesecake a little too mealy and virtuous-tasting for what were clearly high-calorie desserts.  The pecan pie also tasted more of banana than pecans!

In complete contrast to those vegetarian, raw and macrobiotic delights was the dinner we cooked for Kate and Rob when they returned to Melbourne after their campervan trip.  I wanted to make them something they couldn't get in Brunei, and did a trad English roast dinner: rack of pork with crackling followed by classic sticky date pudding.

Rack of Pork

A month without crackling is a month wasted...

So that was my March!  April will hopefully be a little quieter - I need a rest after all that eating and cooking!

Friday, March 30, 2012

March Events: Free-flowing cider, Tomato gazpacho jelly, and a Vodka brunch

As you'll see in my upcoming "Unblogged Files" post, March was an incredibly busy month for me!  This was partly due to Melbourne Food and Wine Festival craziness (I went to three MFWF events this year, one of which I'm including in this post, the other two I'll be blogging about soon), but also because it seemed to be a big month for PR and bloggery events in general.  I think people have recovered from Christmas and New Year's and are getting straight back into it!

The Garden of Eden

I was lucky to win two tickets to The Garden of Eden MFWF event, via a Twitter competition run by Napoleone & Co Cider.  (Thanks guys!)  Held in the Geebung Polo Club in Hawthorn East, it was a fun and relaxed afternoon with free-flowing Napoleone & Co cider (wooo!), roast pork on a spit, and loads of delicious hearty finger food.  They had fun activities too, like apple bobbing and a kids' entertainer, but y'all will already know that I was most interested in the food!

Pretty display of cider, apples and pears

Ciders on tap

Hearty Canapes
There was so much food!  Above we have goats cheese and chorizo tartlets with caramelized onions; arancini; pork belly with apple relish; croque monsieurs; sausages; and cheese fondue with garlic toasties. Really yum!

The star of the day, however, was the pork on the spit.  This was three pork shoulders, placed end-to-end on a spit and slowly roasted.
Pork shoulders on a spit

Mmm... pork!  When I went up to take this photo, the chef asked me: "Have you ever seen crackling like this before?"  Hahaha... biatch please!  I am the queen of crackling!  And may I present for your consideration evidence of this claim: roast pork shoulder, roast pork loinpulled pork, Christmas pork belly, slow-roasted pork shoulder, PORKTOBERFEST II, and my Australia Day pork belly.  (Oh dear, I think I have a problem.)

The Table
There were desserts as well - my favourites were individual apple and pear crumbles in mini pastry cases (surprisingly really delicious!), and apple fritters with caramelized cider sauce.
Desserts: Mini apple crumbles and apple fritters with caramelized cider sauce

It was lovely to meet the boys from Napoleone & Co, Simon and Charles, in person, and of course to indulge in my love of cider and pork!  Thanks so much for the tickets!

"Season's Best, Region's Best" Cooking Class

Last week, Sandra and I were invited to attend a cooking class at the Vic Market's Electrolux Cooking School, hosted by Chef Mathew Macartney from the Yarra Valley's Chateau Yering.  (Ever since my Yarra Valley trip, I've been noticing Yarra Valley popping up everywhere!  It's funny how that happens.)

Chef Mathew deep in concentration

The mirror above the counter reminds me of home ec class!

With a theme of "Season's Best, Region's Best", Mathew demonstrated three dishes and shared lots of tips and techniques.  The first course was a fancy reinterpretation of the classic insalata caprese, and before making his version, he also whipped up a classic version for the participants to share so we could see the difference.

Classic Insalata Caprese with heirloom tomatoes and olive jam
I haven't had a lot of heirloom tomatoes before, and I found it really interesting to taste a few different varieties - the yellow one above had almost a pear-like texture.

And below we have Chef Mathew's interpretation: basil foam in a brik pastry cylinder, jellied gazpacho, burrata, olive jam and heirloom tomatoes.  I really liked it!  Despite the muted colours on the plate, all the elements had very fresh, intense, summery flavours.
Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho, Burrata, Basil Foam, Olive Jam

The next dish was roasted kingfish, which I learned is farmed sustainably in Australia - YAY!  I've found that when I ask fishmongers, even at the bigger markets, they often have no idea which varieties are sustainable or not, so I'm always on the lookout for tips on identifying sustainable species.

How pretty is the arrangement?
Olive Roasted Kingfish with Organic Garden Vegetables, Yoghurt  Purée & Nasturtium Coulis
You can't really see it in the above picture, but one of the accompaniments (under the fish) was pickled kohlrabi, apple and cucumber.  It was just beautiful, and I've already made it at home myself, to accompany a roast rack of pork.

The final course was a Sher Wagyu fillet, cooked sous-vide and then grilled, with heirloom carrots, white onion purée, eggplant "ash", and a smoky molé sauce.  The meat was so tender and delicious!  It made me want to invest in a sous vide machine!  The beef was my favourite course, especially when matched with a lovely Tamar Ridge 2009 Pinot Noir.
Charcoal Grilled Sher Wagyu Fillet, White Onion Purée, Heirloom Carrots & Sauce Molé

Although we attended the Victoria Market Electrolux cooking school as guests, this particular class was priced at $90, which I think represented excellent value - in addition to the demonstration itself and the recipes to take home, we each got the three courses of food, San Benedetto water and a glass of wine with each course.  Great stuff!

Belvedere Bloody Mary Vodka Brunch

This week also saw us attend the launch of Belvedere's new Bloody Mary vodka, with a Vodka Brunch (!) at The Botanical.  The vodka is infused with the ingredients that go into a Bloody Mary: tomatoes, black pepper, horseradish, capsicum, chillies, vinegar and lemon.

Belvedere Bloody Mary Vodka

Beautiful table setting
We enjoyed a tasty brunch, as well as four cocktails featuring the new vodka.
Clockwise from top left:
Scrambled Eggs in confit tomato nest with goat cheese, basil & pesto
Breakfast pastries
Potato rosti, poached egg, bacon, avocado guacamole & sour cream
Fruit salad with vanilla bean Greek style yoghurt

Claire Smith, Head of Spirit Creation and Mixology speaking about the brand

I actually drove to this event, which could either be a smart move or a wasted opportunity, depending on how you look at it!  I only had tiny sips of each drink - it was before midday and I didn't want the rest of the day to be a write off!  All of them were very well made, although I must say that I preferred the sweeter, fruity champagne cocktail to the more savoury ones.  Let's take a look at them individually:

Belvedere Bloody French 74 - Belvedere Bloody Mary, Peach Liqueur, Sparkling Wine, Dash Lemon

Belvedere Pineapple Mary - Belvedere Bloody Mary, Pineapple Juice, Lime Juice, Simple Syrup, Dash Orange Bitters, Pinch of Paprika

Belvedere Cucumber Fix - Belvedere Bloody Mary, Cucumber Juice, St Germain Elderflower Cordial, Dash Lemon

Belvedere Classic Bloody Mary - Belvedere Bloody Mary, Tomato Juice, Lemon Squeeze, Dash Tabasco

Sarah attended The Garden of Eden event as a competition winner, and the Season's Best, Region's Best class and Belvedere Bloody Mary Vodka Brunch as a guest.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Penang 2012: Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa

View of Batu Ferringi beach, from the grounds of Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa

Hey hey! I hope you've all been enjoying my posts about Penang!  Although we did stay with my lovely Aunt for four days, we also splashed out and booked two nights at the gorgeous Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa, on Batu Ferringi.

Garden Wing

Lamp in the same shape as the roof of the resort

The Rasa Sayang is actually my favourite hotel in the whole world - when I was a teenager, my family would spend a couple of weeks here every Christmas, thanks to my awesome Dad.  (I know, super-lucky, right?)  Over the years, my brother and I made heaps of friends from all over the world and generally had loads of fun!  So apart from just being a great hotel, it's got a lot of sentimental value for me as well.  Even though I wanted to fill my holiday with eating and sightseeing, I wanted to do a proper relaxing beach holiday as well, even if only for a couple of nights!

Grounds of the resort

It's been about nine years since I last stayed at the Rasa, and it has changed quite a bit in that time.  I heard that it closed for a couple of years for renovations, and re-opened with upgraded rooms, a new pool, and a big spa centre.

Grounds of the resort

The health club

When researching the trip in detail, I had a look on their website and realised they'd opened a new wing, the "Rasa Wing".  There was a mention of larger rooms, afternoon tea and cocktail hour, and an exclusive swimming pool - at a greater cost than rooms in the standard "Garden Wing", of course.  From the website, I couldn't tell if the extra expense would be worth it, and given that I'd always enjoyed my holidays at Rasa without any of those extra perks, I decided to book a room in the Garden Wing.

But when we checked in, we were told that we'd been upgraded to the Rasa Wing!  Oh wow!  How lucky was that?  I actually have no idea why we were upgraded - we were just normal paying customers who'd booked via the website.  I guess we were just incredibly lucky!

The room itself was a Rasa Wing Premier Room, which was absolutely massive and super luxurious!  (For anyone who has stayed at the hotel pre-renovation, it was actually two of the old rooms, converted into one.)

Super-comfy massive bed
The massive bed was amazingly comfortable and cocoon-like.  When you close those curtains, it's perfectly dark and quiet in there - such relaxation!

Desk and lounge area - complimentary fruit platter on arrival

The room also had an amazing marble bathroom, with  L'Occitane toileteries, a double sink, and a huge shower with three different shower heads!
Bathroom awesomeness
However, there wasn't a bathtub in the bathroom... and that's because it was on the BALCONY!
Balcony bathtub

Now, let me show you some of the extra inclusions that came with being in the Rasa Wing.

The Rasa Wing Pool - which was newly added in the renovation - is reserved exclusively for Rasa Wing guests.  Enclosed by trees and with no children allowed (bliss!), it's incredibly relaxing and quiet.  When you walk in, a super-nice staff member will set up your deck chair for you with towels, and bring free-flowing complimentary soft drinks, coffee and tea, all day long!

The Rasa Wing Pool

You can also order lunch (not included in room rate) and have it brought to your deckchair - below we have fish and chips, and a soft shell crab po' boy with a coconut milkshake.  Decadent, yes, but we were on holiday after all!
Fish and Chips
Soft Shell Crab Po' Boy, Coconut Milkshake

They also brought around fresh fruit on skewers for us to enjoy.  Don't mind if I do!
Dragonfruit, watermelon, canteloupe

For old time's sake, one day I did take a very brief dip in the Garden Wing pool, which I remembered from my previous holidays here, but as you can imagine, once I got set up each morning, I really had no reason to leave the Rasa Wing pool.

Garden Wing Pool - accessible by all guests

Every afternoon they serve a complimentary High Tea for Rasa Wing guests in the Rasa Lobby - scones with cream and Bonne Maman jam, little cakes and sandwiches, all served on a cute three-tiered cake stand.

High tea in the Rasa Lobby

They also mix up the selection of tea items every day, so you won't get bored.  On our first day there were honey & toasted oat scones, vanilla raisin scones, chocolate eclairs, raspberry crème brûlée tarts and white chocolate mango truffle cream cakes.  The sandwiches were avocado & crab, chicken & pesto on herbed focaccia, and roasted pepper & sun-dried tomato.

And for tea on our second day, which you can see was enjoyed in the outdoor area, there were walnut & coconut scones, chocolate & strawberry tarts, tiramisu, and sachertorte.  (Having realised how generous the servings were, we decided to skip the sandwiches on our second day).

Afternoon tea
My favourites here were, unsurprisingly, the scones!  I loved the mini scones, all crisp and crusty on the outside, and fluffily soft within, perfectly bite-sized.

In the evening, the Rasa Wing lobby is the setting for cocktail hour.  (Incidentally, I love how the below photo looks like it was created on a computer.  I have no idea why it turned out like that; it was just the Auto setting on my DSLR!)

Outdoor seating section of the Rasa Wing lobby
Again, included in the room rate for Rasa Wing guests, the cocktail hour offers free flowing wine (including Barossa Shiraz!), beer, and cocktails, as well as delicious canapés.

Cocktails and canapés

There's no drinks list as such, but they do a full range of cocktails, and the friendly staff were able to guide us through what was on offer and make suggestions based on the flavours we like.  I had to order a Long Island Ice Tea (again, something I wanted for old time's sake!), and over the stay we also had Bellinis, sparkling wine, and a fruity little number based on blue curaçao.  The canapés were a mix of local and international items: deep-fried popiah, pandan chicken, meatballs on skewers, grilled scallops, salmon mousse puffs and more.  Despite the canapés being done in high volume and in a limited time window, I was impressed with how flexible the staff were.  One evening, all the canapés happened to be served cold (intentionally!), and when Sandra, who only likes savoury food hot, asked if they could bring out some hot ones instead, the waiters happily and speedily brought out a plate with hot items on it.  So nice of them!

(I believe I may have exclaimed: "Oh my god, they're bringing us free deep-fried food. This is the best holiday ever!" -  but let's not tell anyone, ok? Hehehe.)

In terms of night-time activities, there didn't seem to be a huge amount going on - when we used to visit each Christmas, the lobby lounge was a hive of social activity, but these days it seems a lot quieter and relaxed.  (This could also have been because this particular trip wasn't during a peak period).

We did stop in for a drink one night at the resort's Ferringi Grill restaurant bar - I really needed a drink in a calm setting after braving the craziness of the Batu Ferringi night market!

My negroni was fabulous, and I loved that the barman automatically included a little pitcher of soda water in case it was too strong.  The complimentary cashews and chocolates were a lovely touch!
Negroni, Coke, Cashews, Chocolates

One thing I would recommend doing is having the balcony bathtub filled for you.
Bathtub filled at night
At the time of my visit, it was RM60++ to have the bath filled with aromatic bath salts, which of course is a real luxury - but it was such a treat to come back to the room and have a hot bath with rose petals and mineral water ready and waiting!  And you can have it done any time you like - I asked for the bath to be ready at 11pm.  How indulgent!

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that when it comes to hotels, I love the little touches that make your stay special.  (You know, the lit fireplace at Barolo Lodge in the Yarra Valley, the apple on the pillow at Launceston's twofourtwo).  These are things that might not cost the hotel a lot to implement, but that make you feel so welcome!  At Rasa, the little touch that impressed me the most was the bed-turndown service.  Imagine coming back to your room after cocktail hour or dinner, to find a pair of slippers and a mat waiting for you, and a little bottle of water and glass on your bedside table!  (There were, of course, lots of other little touches that I loved, but this post is getting quite long, and I'm sure if you do end up staying at the hotel you'll have lots of fun discovering them for yourself!)

Bed Turned Down

Although buffet breakfast is included with all rooms, Rasa Wing guests get to choose between the buffet breakfast at the Spice Market Cafe (available to all guests), and the one at the Ferringi Grill restaurant.  The Ferringi Grill buffet breakfast is quite a bit smaller than the standard one, but you get the benefits of shorter wait time, a much quieter atmosphere, and the option of ordering items à la carte as well (these items are included in the breakfast, and do not attract an additional charge).

The Ferringi Grill breakfast buffet and a la carte menu
The buffet here has all the Continental items you'd expect - pastries, cereal, cold cuts, fruit etc.  I love eating fruit when it's all cut up and prepared for me!
Fruits! Dragon fruit and mango (in the cup), papaya, pineapple, blueberries and raspberries
But lest you think I was having a healthy holiday (hardly!), here are the à la carte items we ordered: waffles and chocolate French toast!  So yum!
Fresh waffles - whipped cream, chocolate sauce, berry compote, pistachio powder
French toast - cinnamon and chocolate, with maple syrup and dragonfruit

The Spice Market buffet breakfast, in contrast, has an absolutely massive range of options to choose from!  Waffles, pancakes, cereals, breads, dim sum, curries, roti, noodles, cakes, juices, cold cuts, pastries... it was almost overwhelming!

Spice Market Cafe buffet breakfast

Whilst the variety of food on offer is fabulous, the downside to the Spice Market Cafe breakfast is that it was quite noisy, and at peak times there seemed to be quite a long wait to be seated, with many guests queuing up outside.  (I shudder to think what it would be like during a very busy period, say, Christmas or Chinese New Year!)  Both breakfasts were great in their own way, so I suppose it really just depends what you're in the mood for!

I am a total spa junkie, so I couldn't not visit the Chi Spa.  I was surprised by how popular and busy it was - I couldn't get a booking at all on our first two days at the hotel.  I'm lucky I managed to squeeze in an appointment on the morning of the day we checked out!

Entrance to the Chi Spa
With eleven private villas set amongst, lush greenery, the spa is a tranquil, truly peaceful space.  (Please note, I asked permission before taking photos within the spa complex - I would have hated to disturb any guests or practitioners!)
Path to the individual suites
I booked a Rasa Asmaradana treatment, which went for a heavenly seventy-five minutes.  It started with a lovely foot bath with rose petals, followed by a warm linen pouch of local herbs, lemongrass and pandan leaves being applied with gentle pressure on the shoulders.  Finally, there was a full body massage using aromatic oils.  My practitioner was very professional and highly-skilled - she did an excellent job.

No photos of the individual villa itself - as much as I love taking photos and exploring, I do take my relaxation very seriously, and there comes a time when you must put the camera away!  Believe me when I say the individual villas are absolutely gorgeous, and the design of the villas is totally conducive to a wonderfully relaxing experience.  Mine had a lovely private shower, with all the little touches you'd need to make the experience more comfortable: a fluffy robe, slippers, lots of towels, a safe for valuables, and even things like deodorant, hair-ties and high quality cloth disposable underwear. (Apologies for the overshare folks, but as any fellow spa-junkies will know, no-one can truly relax in those cheap plastic disposable underpants that some spas provide!)

My treatment cost RM330++, which is very pricey by Malaysian standards, but extremely reasonable by Australian standards.  I can't think of a place in Melbourne where you could get as high quality a treatment, in such a beautiful setting, for a comparable price (approx. $100AUD).  I can guarantee you, the next time I stay at the Rasa, I will be saving my pennies beforehand and booking a treatment every single day!

The Yoga Pavillion
Walking out after my treatment, I realised that the Yoga Pavillion was located in the spa complex as well.  When we arrived at the hotel initially, I had considered booking a yoga class, but I had assumed it would be held in the indoor health club, and didn't think it would be worth it to pay extra for a yoga class in a similar setting to my gym back home.  (From memory it was priced at around the RM100 mark, and you need at least two participants for classes to run).  If I'd realised that the yoga class would be in this gorgeous setting, I would have happily paid the extra cost and booked a class straight away!  Oh well, next time!


We had such a fabulous time at the Rasa, and I'm glad to say that it's even better than I remember it.  Yes, it is a bit quieter now, but at this stage in my life, when I go on holiday, I really want to relax and switch-off, not go out and party!  The staff were so nice too!  When we checked in, the gentleman behind the counter (I believe he was the Rasa Wing manager), personally escorted us to the room and explained all the features in an enthusiastic but not overbearing manner.  Throughout the resort, every staff member smiles and greets you when you walk past, which creates such a pleasant atmosphere.

They also provided free Wi-Fi throughout the entire resort, which was very much appreciated, especially considering that we'd been battling with Maxis the week before to get the Internet working on our phones!  (I really think every hotel should provide this!)

The only negative aspect I wanted to mention was that the check-out process was rather cold.  When we went up to the counter to check out, the lady processed the transaction in a very businesslike fashion, not smiling at all, and didn't check if we needed our luggage to be collected (we did), or if we needed a taxi called.  Once the transaction was processed, she didn't say thank-you or goodbye, and we were just left to organise everything else ourselves.  Whilst it might not sound like a huge deal, it was a bit disappointing considering how welcoming, accommodating and thoughtful all the other staff and processes had been up until then.  However, that was really a small matter and certainly wouldn't put me off staying at the Rasa Sayang next time I'm in Penang!

Now that I've had a chance to experience it for myself, I definitely think that the extra expense for the Rasa Wing is worth it, and would happily splash out for it on my next visit.  I personally loved the premier room, the peaceful private pool, the afternoon tea, the cocktails and the two breakfast options.  I think the Rasa Wing is worth it for anyone who doesn't have young children who require constant supervision.  And please note, despite the glowing nature of my review, I was definitely not paid or sponsored for this post in any way whatsoever!  (The upgrade was just a very fortunate piece of luck and in no way related to my blogging!)

All prices and inclusions that I've mentioned above are correct to the best of my knowledge at the time of publishing this post, and of course are subject to change.  When researching and booking your own holiday, I would recommend contacting the hotel directly for up-to-date prices and information.

This is the sixth and final post in my series: 2012 Trip to Penang.  Other posts in this series: Pulau Tikus; Kopitiams and Hawker Food; Casual Restaurants; Sights of Penang; and Straits Quay.