Space @ My Humble House, Esplanade

If anyone is remotely interested, these two weeks are kind of a busy time for me, so there are actually less updates as compared to before. I have also been feeling more tired than usual, and there are those days where I just do not have the mood, motivation or energy to do anything, even writing. But well, I did go somewhere over the weekend; went to Space @ My Humble House at Esplanade for dinner! I must have been a real frog in the well because I never knew that My Humble House had a more affordable version, which is actually located right next to it on level 2 of the Esplanade. I haven’t been to Humble House before, and honestly I know nothing about it other than it could possibly be (and my friend validated that impression) expensive.

Space is just a 34-seater restaurant, comprised of some counter seats as well as square tables scattered around the sides of the eatery. It isn’t like your usual Chinese restaurant, possibly due to the way it is furnished, especially the use of dark colours against some white furniture. Well maybe it still comes across as Asian, because as I read the short intro on its website, it is the work of a renowned Japanese designer and his team, and then I thought, yes it does have some Japanese feel to it. Anyway, these were what we had, not the cheapest fare if you think about Chinese food, but definitely pocket-friendly.

Hainan chicken rice, that comes with a small pot of soup and rice, for S$12.  20130708-225832.jpgIt must be pretty good, because my friend has had it several times and it was also the recommended dish from her.

20130708-225845.jpgI was poring over the menu, even though it isn’t all that extensive. But since I don’t take hot food that much these days, I was going to give my stomach a treat. So this was my order of Sichuan mapo tofu that came within a claypot and is served with rice and a couple stalks of greens, for S$10.

20130708-225900.jpgThe mapo tofu wasn’t spicy at all, to me. I had expected that Sichuan mapo tofu would mean a certain degree of spicyness but this was more savoury than spicy. Despite that, I think it was good, because I finished the whole piping-hot claypot of sauce and tofu! With all the goodness of the sauce, it goes really well with the rice.

20130708-225911.jpgThey also had dim sum on their menu, interestingly called dim sum for the lunch menu, and tapas otherwise. I wouldn’t have thought to associate this term with Chinese food, but well I suppose it could be applied similarly, except that it probably originated from Spanish cuisine.

I liked the decor of Space, whether it’s inside, or the couple of seats outside of the restaurant, which were given a touch of privacy by these partitions put up around the tables. It also helped of course, that the area Space occupied is generally away from the usual noise and crowd of the Esplanade. The second floor is where thoroughfare from the link way of CityLink flows into, but this crowd will usually just head down to the ground level on the escalator so it doesn’t spill over to this part. It’s weird because it is just a few steps away yet the serenity felt on this part of level two is a stark contrast to the otherwise bustle of the area near the escalator. Maybe this spells bad news for a restaurant, but then again I think Humble House, and for that matter, Space, are probably not dependent on commuter traffic to generate business. Not sure how long they have been there but I think I remembered Space from sometime back.

Only downside for me was that the service and attentiveness of the staff could use some improvement. Aside from the fact that they didn’t appear interested in tending to the needs of customers, which included taking of orders and filling our glasses, they seemed more keen on huddling behind the counter chatting languidly among themselves. Even as customers left the restaurant by walking past them at the entry/exit point, they continued deep in conversation without bothering to say thank you/goodbye or even smile at the departing customers. For a restaurant well-received restaurant, I would have expected more, but perhaps for the price we were paying, we shouldn’t. Particularly if we were comparing the price level of Space to their next-door neighbour.

maison kayser – first thoughts

I first read about Maison Kayser from bookjunkie, I think, while I was searching for reviews on the Paris Baguette outlet in Wisma Atria. While I knew that they had a store in Scotts Square, I kept procrastinating on checking it out because somehow, Scotts Square just appeared to be a place I don’t generally need to step into. It is a little like Paragon perhaps, just by looking at its facade, adorned with brands that I don’t think I will become a customer in the near future. Maybe, maybe not.

By chance, I found out that there was a Maison Kayser in Tokyo, at Mid Town in Roppongi, while I was on vacation earlier this month. However, it was not a standalone shop, and it was just a bakery, without the benefit of seating space, and it opened only at 11am, so when I was there, I chose to have breakfast elsewhere instead. When the shop finally opened at 11am, I walked in and took a look at the display and honestly, the breads look like most other breads/pastries that other bakeries serve up. I guess where baked goods are concerned, there isn’t too much difference to expect, unless of course it is very badly made or something. Otherwise, most of these breads have that heavenly golden brown baked look that simply made me want to sink my fangs into them.

So I still didn’t get to try it. And as most of you would have known, the basement of Wheelock Place in Singapore is going to have its branch of the Maison Kayser cafe too. The boards have finally been taken down, and you can see that the display cases and furniture are already in place, but it is past mid December and it is still not opened yet. I guess maybe when they say opening in December 2012, we can’t really expect that to mean anything early. That was the reason I didn’t pop into Scotts Square, because I kept hoping they would open in Wheelock soon, so that I can grab something on the way to my classes, or on the way to the MRT station home. It would offer an alternative to Sun Moulin in Isetan supermarket, Bread Society and also now Marks & Spencer’s bakery.

But no, it remained un-opened. So on Monday, before I went for my class, I finally walked into Scotts Square and made my maiden visit to Maison Kayser. Being a Monday evening, the mall was extremely empty, and so was the basement where the cafe was. I don’t know if it being in Scotts Square has intimidated me, but I didn’t generally feel very welcomed when I walked into the shop’s space and started browsing the display counter. Then I decided to get just one item since it was going to be a quick bite during class, and I chose the chocolate bread (no pictures, sorry), an elliptical-shaped bread roll with chocolate chips, which costs S$3. While I ate it in class, I wasn’t really wowed by it. I mean, it is not bad, but from what I saw in its display case and the taste, I got reminded of Paris Baguette and Tiong Bahru Bakery. They seem to offer similar kinds of baked items and where the taste is concerned, to me, they don’t appear to vary too much, as are the prices.

Besides, since it was just one thing I bought, the person serving me asked if I needed a carrier (in addition to the paper envelope-bag that the bread was put into), and I said no, since I already had another bag with me. And it was only when I declined the carrier when she offered a smile. Service? Or is it only reserved for patrons who sit down and order food and drinks? Maybe next time when I have a little more time, I will sit down for a coffee too, and see how things go. But still, I am glad we have more choices now where breads are concerned, we can never have too many cafes and bakeries! What can I say, I love bread!

service, or not?

It seems like bad service is tolerated too often here in Singapore that it has become the norm rather than the exception. If you were to ask yourself how many times you have gotten good service that leaves a deep impression, you may just draw a blank.

I know that people always tell me that I get what I pay for, that I can’t expect good service at places where I am not paying good money. Which is bullshit to be honest. I can tell you based on past experiences that I have gotten good service from establishments that are not priced in that level at all. Take for example some of the retail shops around. Sure, if you step into Louis Vuitton or Chanel, you would expect excellent service but it doesn’t come without a price or judgment. If the sales assistant deem you unworthy then sorry honey, he or she will just turn up the nose and stare you down like you are a lowly insect. Do you then consider that service? But in contrast, if you were to say step into a Giordano (do they still give good service like the past) or maybe even Uniqlo, you get greeted cheerfully by the sales assistants who don’t really care if you are toting a Chanel bag or carrying a NTUC plastic bag. It may boil down to how they are being remunerated, but nevertheless, hey that’s service for me, I don’t care if they are paid commission or not.

Yesterday I was ranting on Twitter about an encounter at Ya Kun. Most mornings I would go to a Yakun store to get a coffee or tea before heading to the office. There is almost no service so to speak at Yakun, which is really fine since I am just there to buy a drink, and that’s the end of the transaction. But the cashier could be new, or she just wasn’t loud enough in shouting across my order, so the person making my drink gave me a wrong drink. I ordered a teh-c kosong, and it was just a regular teh-c I got. It’s just sugar yes, but it’s the wrong order and a regular teh-c is just too sweet it is undrinkable. The auntie making the kopi grumbled about how the sugar is already added and how come I didn’t tell her. Seriously, wtf? Shall I just order and pay directly to the kopi auntie then in future? Why should they have a cashier and a kopi auntie if the customer has to repeat orders to two different persons? And Yakun coffee and tea is by no means considered cheap now anyway.

So after having Yakun for the past few days I decided to have a change today and bought myself a latte. When I got to the office, I saw this:

20120329-083443.jpg

This isn’t cappucino where the foam goes flat after a while. Why am I paying for 80% of a drink or has the person making my drink decide to take a swipe of it while preparing it? This has nothing so much to do with service, but it just reflects on the kind of low standards we have here in the F&B sector.

 

service… not.

I have come to realise that when I don’t get enough rest or sleep, I tend to be more irritable and grouchy. The smallest and trivialest of things can get under my feathers and make me flare when on normal days (when I am well-rested) I would just ignore it and let it slide.

After C’s wedding on Wednesday and having little sleep the night before, coupled with an already huge sleep debt building up, I was seriously tired but still insisted on making the best of my waking hours. I met up with M (or should I say… R) last evening and she suggested Wala because initially she had wanted to check out the band. Until I told her that the band that she’d heard of doesn’t start until about 930pm, so anyhow we still met there and sat downstairs for dinner.

I would consider myself as a pretty regular customer at Wala Wala but more than 90% of the time I’d be seated upstairs because mostly I was there for the band. I don’t have many complains about the level or quality of service because we do give concessions during times when it’s crowded. We’re not unreasonable people, so even when our food or beer take longer to be served we can live with it.

But last night it was different. I can blame it on my inherent grouchiness but the waitress who was hovering around our table really pissed me off. I don’t mind that the moment we were seated and given the menus (by someone else) she came over to ask if we’re ready to order. I replied no, and asked for a few minutes – this happens all the time so it’s no biggie. But it’s when we were eating and drinking, and of course catching up, she kept coming to interrupt us and asking, “Are you done?” with the food and drinks. We were almost sort of done, yes, although we didn’t finish the food, but maybe a better way of putting it would be, “Would you like me to clear that for you?” instead of the brusque “Are you done?” like she can’t wait for us to get off our seats and leave. The thing is, it wasn’t even super packed, because there were still empty tables around so I don’t understand why she was so bent on shooing us off. Even on one Friday night when I was having dinner downstairs with another friend, nobody came to shoo us away although they were operating at full capacity.

This is probably the first time I’m getting so annoyed with any wait staff at Wala because all the other times they were generally ok, just slow or forgetful. Perhaps they weren’t trained to ask properly to clear customers’ plates, or maybe saying “are you done?” is much easier than the more polite way of “would you like me to clear that?”

things that make me go…

If you people didn’t already know, I used to part-time as a service crew for Coffee Bean. Its first branch opened in Singapore at the ex-Scotts Shopping Centre in 1996, and I was part of the first team that was formally and rigorously trained by one of their trainers from the US. Subsequently, I stopped because school started, and while I was in University, I worked at another of their outlets at Funan, that is also no longer there.

Personally, I am not a big fan of their coffee because even in comparison to Starbucks that I don’t find to be superior coffee, I think the taste is just not there. I like their tea lattes though, although in recent times, these have been introduced in the other coffee places as well, e.g. Starbucks, that I have yet to try. I still visit Coffee Bean occasionally because I kind of like the muffins they serve, but over these years, I find that their service level really leaves much to be desired.

Perhaps being trained in the “art” of coffee-making, particularly Coffee Bean-style, has made me somewhat conscious about how the drinks are made and presented. I find that the way drinks are being made by their staff are not up to par. We were taught before that lattes are only supposed to have 2 layers, 1 being the mixture of espresso and milk, and the other being the 1-inch foam on top, so why is it that I am always seeing various different layers, and the foam layer can be up to 3 inches. Unless they changed their way of making coffees.

The service attitude of the staff is also seriously lacking in most of the places, because they, as we all know, are mostly part-timers, who don’t really give 2 hoots about customer experience. Starbucks and Spinelli are different where this aspect is concerned; I’m sure they hire part-timers as well, but they bother to make the whole customer experience as best as they can, and you can tell the hint of professionalism behind their service. Sorry, Coffee Bean, but you are definitely losing out on this.

I didn’t mention before, that not too long ago, I bought a Bluberry muffin from the outlet at B1 of 313@Somerset, and it tasted odd. My suspicion is that it had already gone bad, because it was the bottom part of the muffin that had this sourish-bitter taste to it, totally not how a muffin should taste like. I threw it away of course, and fortunately, for me or for them, nothing untoward happened as a result of the muffin gone bad.

Today, I went back again. A muffin costs $3.50, and because I did not have enough spare cash on me, I gave the cashier a $50-note, and 50 cents of coins, so I would get back $47 in change. She took my money, then handed me 11 pieces of $5 and a $2, without so much as apologising for giving me change in that manner. Usually, we would expect to get back $10 notes when it’s $47, so if it is going to be so many pieces shouldn’t the cashier have the decency to inform the customer of that and apologise? I mean, I don’t really enjoy carrying a thick wad of notes in my wallet; do you? Maybe I am just nit-picking for no obvious reason but if I were the cashier that will be what I tell my customer, that “I’m sorry but we ran out of $10 (honestly I don’t know if she was just doing it on purpose because I gave her a $50), so I’m going to have to give you $5s instead.”

I wished there was a Starbucks nearer to my office so that I can boycott Coffee Bean. The nearest is at Centrepoint, which is another 5-7 mins walk away, and Spinelli/Tully’s is another 5 mins or so. Maybe I should just walk that bit more in future.

pissed off

The SA at Louis Vuitton at Roppongi pissed me off last evening. What was supposed to be another pleasant shopping trip with a bag purchase turned out into a fruitless one that left me feeling pissed.

Despite that there were very few customers in the store, at the particular bag bar that I was at; I think there were probably about 2 SAs behind the counter, with 2 sets of customers, each one attending to each. So, I stood somewhere in their middle, waiting patiently for my turn, since I thought perhaps their service requires them to provide dedicated service to their customer. One of the SAs, a female, turned in my direction, and looked at the bag that I was carrying, then pretended not to notice my presence there, and turned back to her 2 customers, who were seemingly having a tough time trying to decide which bag to buy. I don’t mind that I have to wait, but I just don’t get it why these SAs are just so fucking rude. She could have just told me to wait, but she totally ignored me, when I already wanted to just get the bag and leave the damn place.

So far, I think LV has one of the worst services around. Back in Singapore, and now here in Tokyo Japan, the service is the same – lousy. Granted, I had received quite professional service in LV Japan, at the outlet within the Seibu dept store in Shibuya, and perhaps even the one at Champs Elysees Paris, but I have actually got excellent customer service from Miu Miu in Taipei, which I think all SAs should endeavour to emulate. Again, I don’t give a flying fuck if you decide to bitch behind me that I come in to buy one measly bag, but could they just have the courtesy to do it behind closed doors? Didn’t their supervisors teach them any better? If anyone reads this who can make a difference, please refine your customer service Louis Vuitton.