Magic (and some Rome shots)

We have reached the point of magic.

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Friends, Christians, Romans (ha ha), the magic has bloomed and taken over us all right now. It’s broken down from an anticipating cloud into a million little sparkles, drenching us from the inside out. As I swoon over all my presents, as I write letters and notes on what I got from who, it strikes me just how much we take for granted this one day. I went upstairs to my room’s cupboard, or what I label my storage cupboard, and rummaged through the years’ accumulation of boxed-up presents and toys and stuffed animals. Sitting on their bums. Nonchalant state, blind, hell, probably bored, but sparkling with the memories born of yesteryears. In Singapore right now, there’s no frolicking in conifer-laden forests, no restless gallivanting in the gelid (I learnt this fun word today, which basically means wintery or cold. Accomplishment number one- done) snow. Pity, isn’t it. I haven’t posted any shots of Rome yet, so please enjoy the cigarette smoke you see streaming out of this man’s hole, as well as the crazy espresso culture I immersed myself in.

Pictures. Nothing more, nothing less, but so profound through my lens.

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Yes, I’m the blur-eyed thing on the left.

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My mother got me something quite wonderful this Christmas, something I can’t bear to disclose here because the excitement and giddiness is both frustrating and overwhelming. I’m angry, so angry at her for spoiling me this way. It actually hurts. Materialistic goods are for the faint of heart, or perhaps those overly ridden with the frivolous joys and majesties of this intrinsically materialistic world, and yet here I am gushing about the latest bag or my new New Scientist subscription and recipe book. No critics allowed here, please.

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Sometimes I forget how small I am. In the midst of two-metre tall letters, bundled up in winter gear, heart thumping, internally applauding the graciousness of God made real and beautiful in the gold, ornate interior of St. Peter’s Basilica. Slivers of light to greet us, the warmth and holiness of hundreds of years preserved for us to revel in.

I’m so happy I shall make some rum-spiced tiramisu.

Yes. Right about now.

France: La Bastide St Antoine

Only fools can revel in such selfish self-appraisal and a holier-than-thou attitude if they dare try rating a Michelin-starred restaurant. For honestly, what is there to rate at all? Alright yes, there is definitely some controversy surrounding what constitutes as Michelin material, however there is simply no question (if any at all doubt) here. Hence, I shall not name this a review, and will instead insert it fittingly into the ‘Babbles’ category. This will simply be my gushing over a place which deserves to be called a palace.

Plain and simple. This is what it is. Fabulous french food at a respectable cost, wrapped up nicely in a little package with a dollop of charisma, humour, perfect service and exquisite ambience. All decked out in glorious shades of ivory and mitten, as if ready to flex and expand once your belt and waist pops.

This lunch lasted from 1 to 4 30pm.

So yes, we dined for more than 3 hours. Dangerous. Very dangerous. But we came and we ate and we guffawed at every little Michelin-starred detail in sight.

This was a quartet of culinary daintiness. We were instructed (in rather stern yet soft French accents) to go from right to left, like this: cauliflower soup, pumpkin, pickled vegetables and rabbit. We followed that order, in order to allow the flavours from each petite compartment to meld into one another seamlessly. Oh it works alright. No to mention those little sporks are ridiculously adorable. The entire thing felt indeed to be more like a dream than reality, and the whole time I was simply wide-eyed, admiring course after course, half the time too scared to ruin the spell at the touch of my fingertips.

What more do I need to say here.

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Ah, my entree. Mind you, more of an entire meal in itself. This was by no means a meagre, expectedly small portion. The French like to emphasise the strength of their dishes, and I guess this is exactly what they meant by a strong and unfaltering dish. There was a party of shellfish upstairs, and absolutely perfect, al dente, lobster-infused risotto downstairs. It came with a little jug of what appeared to be some amber sauce or reduction, and surprise surprise, the little French waiter next to me graciously poured every drop over the plate, careful to coat every grain of rice in sight. Taking my fork, I scooped a little before going straight in. And oh my goodness, was it perfect. Such precious moments render me speechless, and this was one of those priceless moments. The seafood sauce was creamy without taking away the pleasurable oomph and personality of that slightly chewy, alabaster risotto.

I’m personally not a huge fan of big portions for they dilute the personality of a dish after a while, but this was marvellous to say the least, and I ate up. I just did.

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And this was my main course (thanks to my habitual obsession with any sort of fish). It was a hard time trying to sift through a list of options before coming to some risky and painful decision. Life choices, life choices. Magnificent, life-changing choices! The fish was surprisingly predictable albeit very well cooked. A good fillet is never actually as bland as many people assume to be when it comes to fish or other types of white meat. The saddest part was that I was already terribly full by the time my main course arrived (my small stomach hardly does me any favours).

I present to you the star of the desserts that bleak and wintery afternoon. This is no ordinary strawberry souffle, may I just first point out.

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See that pouf? The high rising glory (before my spoon sank in, of course)?

It’s all sweet and mildly tangy whipped air in a ramekin. I still remember the slight give as my spoon made a curved cut, as if the little thing was too shy to reveal the pockets of strawberry-kissed air inside. You get the tender, slightly chewy meringue edge, followed by the bliss of whipped nothingness. Nothingness with substance, that is.

All of a sudden you seize up and shut your eyes, just to quickly catch what you just experienced. A soft spot amongst the mountains of other rich and dense dishes. The souffle managed to retain the perfect tang of strawberries, even with the airy fairy sweetness. And here’s more. Keep in mind that that entire dessert platter you see below was totally complimentary. Mr Chibois, the head chef and top mastermind of the restaurant, is a humble genius.

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This was no meal. I was privileged enough instead to enjoy an entire experience that afternoon (and half the evening). To simply sit there and watch plate after plate come and go was both visual ecstasy and sensory delight. Each waiter entertained us with such wit and charm, and served us olive and raisin bread between each course. So unlike the common wooden waiters here in Singapore. Then again, I’m only being mean since it’s also pretty common for people to have their bad days, no? (Though I must say, if ever these lovely French waiters DID have a bad day, I doubt they would show it).

La Bastide, I shall come for you again one day.

Perhaps with 2 more stomachs to help this pathetic one out.