Sunday, October 31, 2010

Qantas – Next Generation Check-In

Just when most people are getting used to the idea of online check-in Qantas have now introduced what they call “Next Generation Check-in system.” Gone are the days of “human intervention” replaced with computers, scanners and conveyor belts. What this basically means is that the passenger is now responsible for selecting his/her seat, printing his/her boarding pass, and if he or she has got a bag to check-in he/she is responsible for printing the bag tags, attaching the tags to the bags in a prescribed manner and sending off his/her own bags to the correct aircraft.

This new system has been fully implemented by Qantas at one of Australia’s busiest domestic airport, Perth. Noticeably absent are check-in counters manned by humans. In place are touch screens and bag drop scanners that will direct your baggage to its rightful destination. WARNING: You must remove all old tags and stickers so as not to confuse the new technology and send your bag/s where you do not want it to go.

Sydney, arguably the busiest down under, is the next in-line to launch the system. Frequent SYD travellers be warned.

The system is almost hassle free if you have nothing to check-in. Printing your boarding pass at home still works a treat. But if you’re on the other extreme with oversized (like prams, surfboards, etc.) and/or overweight pieces the new system can be a nightmare. You can say, it indirectly discourages the practice. But if you have no choice grab the first human staff you see before your fingers start fiddling with the very inviting touch screens.

Streamlining is the whole idea with the promise “to leave you more time to spend as you choose before your flight” (from Qantas – The Australian Way Magazine). We’ll see…

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sono, Queen St

Like most Asian cultures Filipinos traditionally serve noodles during birthdays to symbolise long life. This comes in the form of pancit in all its variations.

But because this year is a milestone celebration for my dear wife cooking pancit just would not cut it. We wanted something extraordinary and intimate. Yes, you read it right, an intimate dinner with our family (including the kids), friends and friends’ kids.

A Chinese banquet, although special, seems too busy and not intimate enough. Then there are the Thai, Vietnamese, Singaporean and Korean restaurants that we know of in Brisbane. They all lack that X factor we’re after fitting the momentous occasion.

And then there’s Sono more specifically Sono at Queen St. Situated right in the heart of Brisbane’s CBD it truly is a tranquil gourmet escape for city folks.

Sono offers various types of seating. There are Japanese booths, a sushi bar, as well as western style of seating. And for boutique parties like ours the restaurant also has traditional Japanese private rooms. But because we only booked on the day we missed out on having our own private dining room (note to self: book early).

The restaurant has got quite an extensive menu. They boast to have the highest quality hand made sushi in Brisbane.

For starters we had their appetizer platter composed of fresh oysters with ponzu sauce, simmered pork belly with sweet soy, soft shell crab with shiso sauce, crab croquette and edamame. The kids had tuna sushi.

And because we’re after some noodle component in our dinner we went for Sono’s Wagyu Sukiyaki. There’s a shabu-shabu version of it if you’re not too keen on the sweet soy. The kids had tempura udon, chicken karaage and more sushi.

All the dishes were very good as expected. Their sukiyaki servings were plentiful. We had enough leftovers for a couple more adults.

I would like to commend the restaurant’s staff for their high quality of service. Kids are not a big part of their regular clientele but we were accommodated without much fuss. A high chair for my toddler and a special table for the kids away from the steaming hot sukiyaki pots were effortlessly set up by smart and beautiful looking kimono clad staff.

But what made that night a lot more special was the company of true friends who indeed rejoiced with us. Thank you Patrick and Pilar, I almost ruined the surprise but anyway,… And thank you Lyndon and Carla (and Aaron, and Ayden and Anthony) for joining us, enduring the 12+ hour drive to Brisbane on a wet and stormy weekend.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Red Cake for a Strong Woman

For her milestone birthday she crafted for herself (no one else could do a better job) an exquisite red cake with black trims topped with fresh red roses. The insides are made of rich chocolate mud cake lavishly finished with semi-sweet dark chocolate ganache for added decadence.

It had to be RED!

There is no other colour that best describes my dear wife Cherry Bel. She is a beautiful, multi-talented, creative, artistic, highly intelligent, passionate, caring, loving and most definitely strong woman.

She could have had any job she chooses. She could have her own business if she so desired. But she chose to stay home to bring up our children. A choice some found too confronting. A choice she’s been made to question the wisdom of. But it is a choice I will be eternally grateful for and with certainty so will our children.

So here’s to you my dearest Cherry Bel! “Her children rise up and call her blessed and her husband boasts of and praises her…” (Proverbs 31:28). Indeed! Life is just beginning…! God is not finished with you yet…!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Red Lantern, Surry Hills, Sydney

Now, to the other end of the Vietnamese dining spectrum.

I’ve always intended to go to Red Lantern. But my resolve to actually dine in this much-lauded restaurant became even greater after my wife gifted me with Luke Nguyen’s (the restaurant’s owner/chef) Songs of Sapa for our 12th anniversary.

Most Vietnamese restaurants I know are either in the city’s Chinatown or in the outer suburbs. Red Lantern, on the other hand, distinguishes itself by being situated in a converted Crown St terrace in the trendy Surry Hills area of Sydney.

The restaurant suggests you book at least 2 months in advance if you plan to have dinner there on a Friday or a Saturday night. I did not have that much notice to give. Dinner was definitely out of the question. So I booked lunch instead.

With my very good friends from Sydney in tow (thanks once again Lyndon and Carla, and Anthony, of course) we rock up one Wednesday to experience what Red Lantern has to offer.

No Asian kitsch in sight. The restaurant is tastefully decorated in mainly vermillion and black. It gives you the feeling of being in a well-to-do but traditional Vietnamese family home.

So as we do not miss anything I thought the best way was to go for their tasting menu. Unfortunately, with less than 4 adults in our party we were dissuaded from doing so. There was no other choice but to go a la carte.

We started with the following entrees:

Goi Du Du

Green papaya, Tiger prawns and Berkshire pork salad.

Chim Cut

Twice cooked quail stuffed with Kurubota pork served with salad of fennel in citrus and soy dressing.

Bo La Lot

Char grilled lemongrass beef wrapped in betel leaves with vermicelli, peanuts and shallot oil.

For mains we ordered:

Con Dom Hap

Mussels steamed with garlic, lemongrass and chilli. Finished with coconut milk.

Suon Nuong

Char grilled ‘Berkshire’ pork cutlets marinated in honey, lemongrass and shallot oil

Ca Hap La Chuoi

Curry marinated fish fillet wrapped in banana leaf and steamed

I can sum up the whole experience in one word: “underwhelming.” For a restaurant with such strict booking requirements I came with very high expectations. Red Lantern, I thought, would be a step above the best Vietnamese dining experiences I’ve had in the past. It all comes down to the flavours. They were all there but somehow muted. Rather than an explosion I only got a hint of this and a whiff of that.

As much as I love Luke’s book I’m afraid I can’t say the same for the restaurant. It promised so much but delivered so little.