Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Take That - Progress - An album review and more!

Its been 2 years since their last album The Circus was released and here is the long awaited new album to be released on Monday 15th November. This time, we have the return of the FULL line up, which includes Robbie Williams. I do not really have much time for pop music anymore these days but I will always have time for this lot, who I regard are the purest purveyors of pop music.  Read on to see what I thought of the aibum.

The Flood
The current single and opening track reminds me of the opening track from TT's first comeback album, Beautiful World, called Reach Out. I loved that song as I do this. Watch the embedded video below. Great video!

Mark leads with some from Robbie and Gary in a high energy dance tune. Sounds quite dated like something from the 90s, not unlike something from Pulp. Not exactly a bad thing for TT fans.

Sang by Robbie and would be at home in one of his solo albums. A mid tempo electronic dance tune with a catchy chorus, like No Regrets. Definitely one to please the Robbie fans.

Mark on the lead again! Does Gary not sing anymore? Peculiar song, quite unlike anything they have ever done before. Its like a chant all through the song but not one that others would chant along. One of the weaker numbers and I doubt it will be a future single.

Pretty Things
More electronic shenanigans from TT. Robbie takes the helm again, or at least his voclas were the most prominent as they were harmonised right through the song. A fairly mellow song that reminded me of Joan of Arc by OMD in tune and

Happy Now
A fairly pedestrian song that reaches no highs nor lows. Still with the electronic theme, it has a subtle fat synth bass right through the song and just plods along like the album filler it is.

Underground Machine
Robbie on the leads again. Some guitar riffs perpetuate throughout this number which tells us that they are no longer a boyband. A mature sound which may not appeal to TT fans of the old .. or even those who latched onto the bandwagon since 2006.

What do you want from me
Another Mark lead. Starts of rather mellow but soon picks up pace with a fairly addictive dance beat. However the title and melody does not make this a completely upbeat and happy song.

Not sure if this is Jason or Howard singing here. Similar to the previous song in pace but lacks its catchiness.

Eight Letters
Finally a song with Gary in the lead! TT does not sound the same without him leading! Also the only real ballad in this album. Now this is the TT that fans have grown to love over the last 20 years! They have definitely left the best till last!

.... and dont forget the customary secret track at the end of the album!

My verdict...

Is this a Robbie Williams album? If you have been in outer space for the last 20 years, you might have thought that Robbie has always been the lead singer of this group. Also, I suspect that Gary did not write most of the tracks .. yes I know the group was credited with most of the songs for the last two albums but we clearly knew who was behind the composition of most of the songs in reality. So, despite my tepid reaction to this release, I must say that I did enjoy it and you do too they please go out and buy it to support the group.

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Sunday, 7 November 2010

FC Barcelona - an UEFA Champions League Camp Nou experience

We had a short break in Barcelona last month and managed to get a lot of photos, so I will spread it out over a few postings. 

The highlight of our trip was a visit to the Nou Camp for a UEFA Champions League match against FC Copenhagen. I planned the whole trip by obtaining information from various forums on the net and hence, I have decided to start this posting with a pictorial guide on how to get to the Nou Camp. This appears to be one of the most asked questions about Barcelona and I took these pictures with this in mind. Hopefully, whoever manages to find this link will find it useful. Feel free to leave a short comment if it has helped you.

Here is the coveted ticket! Bought it from here.

 All I had to do was provide passport number and credit card number. Then I get a reference number to collect it from the FNAC store in the Triangle shopping mall at Plaza Catalunya up to 72hrs before the match.

Note: UEFA rules state that you cannot buy tickets from the home team if you are from the country of the visiting team.

Of course if you have a passport different from your country of residence, then it would not be an issue!   


A Pictorial Guide on directions to FC Barcelona's Camp Nou

First, you need to plot your journey to arrive at the Maria Cristina metro station. You can use other stations too, but the green line is the most popular one with visitors as it passes Plaza Catalunya, the "centre" of all the action in the city. It takes about 15 - 20 minutes from Plaza Catalunya.

When you are exiting Maria Cristina, follow the signs for the "Av Diagonal" (name of a street) exit. There are only 2 exits anyway, so it is hard to go wrong. Once outside, you will see this wide pedestrianised pavement in front of you, with a busy cycling lane to the right.


Turn to your left and you will see two dark buildings across the road. I think they have "La Caixa" on the top of both.


Walk for about 200m, keeping those buildings to your left across the road and you will soon see some shops on the left, same side as those buildings.


Keep walking for another 50m and you will coome to a set of lights. You can see across the road, a tall hotel called Princesa Sofia. This is where you need to cross the road. EVEN WHEN YOU SEE THE GREEN MAN, STILL LOOK L & R AS CARS AND BIKES WILL CARRY ON DRIVING IF THEY CANNOT SEE A PERSON CROSSING THE ROAD!


With the hotel now in front of you, walk past the front of it and turn left immediately.

You are now on the final 400m leading to the stadium and soon you will be able to see its bright lights, if you are arriving for an evening match.


At the end of that stretch, we are now in front of Gate B

Like any stadium in the world, lots of UNOFFICIAL stalls selling merchandise outside. Most are overpriced and are complete rip off. Fake FCB shirts with Nike logo were going for 50 euros. Can buy a real one in UK for £44! Unofficial scarves start from 10 euros. 

If you want official stuff, then you need to go inside the gates, where they cost even more! About 70 euros for a FCB shirt!


The FC Barcelona match experience

1 hour before the match and the stadium was stil sparse. There was no pre-match entertainment. 

We got the cheapest tickets and ended up behind the goal, to the left of the dugout, about 6 rows from the top. Despite the height, we had a very good and unobstructed view. The height actually helped as, any lower and the goal would have obscured part of our view.


15 minutes before kick off and the stewards troop onto the pitch. To wave the huge UCL logo.


10 minutes to kick off and the stadium was filling up.

Then the teams emerge from the dugout to massive applause and lots of flashes. 


Managed to capture this on video too!

Here we see Messi's teammates congratulating him for scoring the opening goal. However, it was actually quite a subdued affair on the whole. We may have been in the "home" section, but all around us were foreigners. Not a single Spanish (or Catalonian) sitting around us. The visiting team were containing Barca quite well and for most of the match, there was a total lack of atmosphere around our section.  Could not really say the same about the Danish fans who were singing, chanting and clapping throughout the match. They may have take up no more than 15% of the whole stadium physically, but they definitely made 80% of the noise!


In the end, Barca won 2-0 in a largely uninspiring match. However the overall experience was still rather exhilarating, in one of the largest football stadiums in the world.


And here is a picture of 80,000 leaving the stadium, heading  up the  road from the stadium towards Av Diagonal.


So, was it worth it?

Absolutely! I remember back in 1982, watching the opening match of the World Cup that was being held in a distant land (Spain!) and marvelling at the size of the Camp Nou on TV. It was one of those things you see as a kid and never expect to experience it in person. After all it seemed so unreal for someone who has only ever experienced a 30,000 capacity Merdeka Stadium. It was like watching the moon landing. You dont expect to experience it yourself. Yet, now 28 years later, there I was .. Messi, Puyol, Villa, Iniesta .. World Cup winners as well! A truly memorable experience! 

Saturday, 23 October 2010

X-Factor 2010 Lookalike

Separated at birth?

Just watched tonight's x-factor and noticed a startling resemblance between that human skeleton, Cher Lloyd and Dead or Alive's Pete Burns during his prime in the 80s. Now we just need her to sing You Spin Me Round and we will have a perfect tribute act!



Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Roti Canai available all over UK

Feast your eyes on this picture. Looks like the real thing, doesn't it? It could have easily been taken from a cafe anywhere in Malaysia. I have never met any Malaysian born person who claim to dislike the Roti Canai. In fact, I would go as far as saying that this should be known as Malaysia's national dish, instead of the more popularly acclaimed nasi lemak. After all, it is uniquely Malaysian, despite it being seen as "Indian". You will not be able to get this dish in India, I am sure .. not this version anyway which, although is a variation of the "paratha" it has evolved quite significantly from its Indian roots.

However, the twist here is that I did not cook this dish! Not properly anyway. It was bought frozen from a large supermarket - and not a specialist Asian one - and simply lightly fried in a skillet, like a pancake. It will slowly rise and fluff up, just like the real thing.

It is available all over the UK and has been for a number of years. I have yet to see anything that resembles nasi lemak in our supermarkets here. As this is the most popular uniquely Malaysian dish widely available in the UK, I must conclude that to most non-Malaysians, this is the national dish.

The brand below is one of about 3 or 4 available. Only cost around £1 for a pack of 5.

Just to add.. a fresh handmade dish like this would be almost impossible to sell in the UK .. each piece is rather laborious to produce. I would estimate that it would cost about £3 per piece to make it cost effective. At this price, I doubt it would sell. Hence I cannot ever see it taking off in restaurants over here.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Satay Chicken

It was the middle of summer and it was the barbecue season. I thought it would be a great time to try making satay, Malaysian style, for the first time. However, I was feeling a bit lazy and did not feel like cutting the chicken into little pieces. Hence, I decide to marinate the chicken in quarter portions. Nothing wrong with that ... after all, they often sell it this way in the streets of Bangkok.

So I concocted a mixture of ground coriander, fennel, cumin, ginger, garlic, coconut milk, and some salt and sugar to taste. It all looked and smelt fine and I marinated the chicken for about 4 hours.

Then the rain came down. We have had quite a wet second half to this summer and our hopes for a bbq in the garden was thwarted. So, I decided to pop the chicken into the oven.

After turning them over about 4 times, it is ready. I basted it with its own juice / oil throughout the cooking process.

I served it with shop - bought peanut sauce and rice. Tasted fine, but could have been a lot better with the charcoal bbq taste to it!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Manchester Caribbean Carnival 2010

Last weekend we had the annual Caribbean Carnival in Manchester. The event was held at a local park (Aleandra Park) and there were a lot of cultural events as well as contemporary shows featuring local hip hop and r&b artistes.

However, as this is a food blog, I will just report on this event from a culinary point of view.

There were a lot of stalls there with traders selling their wares with a caribbean theme. However, every third stall is one selling food and they were almost all selling the same dishes. By far, the most popular is Jerk Chicken - barbequed chicken marinated with jerk (jamaican herbs and spices) seasoning.

Here are a couple of pics from a stall.
Also watch the video link above to see what the event looked like.

We did not stay long but managed to bring home a couple of delicious treats.

Jerk Chicken with rice and salad. Not heavily flavoured but very nice!

Jamaican Curried Goat. Also very nice ... the closest comparison I can think of is Yeo's canned curry beef ... similar but nicer!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

A Chinese Christmas in the UK

I think it is customary all over the western world that Chinese restaurants lay on special Christmas banquet menus adapted for the local taste. It is a bit late, but this was what we had when I went out with my office last Christmas (2009). I would say that this is a rather typical menu in most Chinese restaurants in the UK catering for the local people.

We had a regular and a vegetarian banquet at this (lol, honest!) restaurant in Manchester.

Starting with this Chicken and Sweetcorn soup

We also had this vegetarian sweetcorn soup, which tasted almost identical to the previous one, but with veg bits instead of chicken.

Then onto this mixed vegetarian starter - apart from the salad, spring rolls and gluten I do not know what the rest were, but they were quite nice.

This was the meat starter, consisting of some popular dim sum bites like har gau, siu mai, fried wonton, spring rolls and curry samosa (is this Chinese??).

Then onto the crisy shredded duck wraped in pancake rolls. Very nice but very typical of most western Chinese banquets

The vegetarians had this nut and veg stir fry to be wrapped in lettuce leaf instead. It was very tasty but I much prefer the duck.

This first main course was beef stir fried in a very sweet tangy sauce .. I think its OK sauce. My favourite dish of the evening.

SOme mixed veg dish for the veggies

And another! Both were ok but tasted very similar.

Chicken satay (not Malaysian satay sauce, but Jimmy's Sate sauce like this). Very nice tasted like it had citrus juice in it, which I have since started using it myself too.

And a rather generic chicken and mixed veg stir fry which was ok only.

Side dish was young chow fried rice. Nice but not exceptional. The veggies had just egg fried rice.

Overall a satisfying banquet and we got exactly what we expected.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Hainan Chicken Rice with Roast Chicken

Its been 4 months since my last blog. Hope I have not lost too many readers as I have sort of neglected this blog due to other interests I have discovered. However, I am still as interested in cooking and eating as ever. Just that I seem to have a bit less time to blog about them now. But anyway, here is an update on one of my favourite dishes.

Back in 2008, I wrote a comprehensive guide to how I cook Hainan Chicken Rice with lots of images. Sadly, the host have now taken all the pics down. One day, I will upload them again. But in the meantime, here is the link anyway. You will get the idea even if you just read the text.

Click here.

This blog basically is the same except that the chicken is actually roasted instead of poached.

Normally a chicken lasts 2 days for us. On the second day, I reheat the chicken in the microwave, let it cool a bit and then chop it. On this occassion, I decided to roast the chicken for the second day. This adds extra taste to it to compensate the loss of smooth texture as a result of reheating.

All I do is rub a mixture of dark soy, honey, 5 spice, salt and pepper to the dry cold chicken. Then let it dry at room temp for an hour. After that, put in a VERY hot oven, so that it cooks the surface quickly and not cook the inside for too long. After all , the chicken is already cooked.

These are the results.

Btw, I glazed the skin with its own fat dripping, but not too much to retain some form of crispiness. Commercially, the vendors would bathe the skin with hot oil to get an even golden brown colouring.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Sambal Sotong ( Chilli Squid )

Everytime I make some sambal paste, I freeze some and use it for various dishes at another time. Here is one, which is essentially the same sauce I used for this Nasi Lemak dish here.

Such simplicity! Fry the sambal, then add the cleaned squid and cook for 10-15 minutes and that's it. One of my favourite Malaysian dishes which you cannot buy anywhere, but in Malaysian restaurants, and even then, the quality is unpredictable.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Lee Chong Wei - 2010 All England Mens Singles Champion!!

Great achievement! Second singles Malaysian player to win this prestigious tournament in 44 years. However it was not without controversy as we clearly saw in tv replays that his winning shot was indeed out, but called in. I would lodge a protest if I was in the Japanese camp. But anyway, that aside, it was a great moment for Malaysian sport, and I hope it goes some way towards uniting the nation in these politically turbulent times.

Wel done, Chong Wei!