Walking with dinosaurs at Zoo-rassic Park

Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg’s 1993 movie which featured realistic looking prehistoric creatures, made such a huge impact on our imagination that many young people suddenly had serious ambitions to become paleontologists.

Come face-to-face with a T-Rex!  Look at those fangs! 
So when Wildlife Reserves Singapore invited me to their holiday season’s attraction dubbed, Zoo-rassic Park, I didn’t need details as to what it will feature because its name, so similar to Jurassic Park, left little to the imagination.

While I was fascinated by the advanced technology that went into the portrayal of such realistic movie scenes with a range of prehistoric creatures, I must admit that I had no desire to get close to any of these enormous animals.

My first brush with these prehistoric creatures was in 2013 at the Titans of the Past exhibition in the SingaporeScience Centre that showcased real fossils including the skull of the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex or T-Rex ever found!

Don't say we didn't warn you!
The close-up experience with the T-Rex skull gave me an idea of the massive proportions of its complete body.  I remember having the shivers, just imagining myself meeting one of these carnivorous creatures and probably ending up as a tasty meal because I would likely have collapsed in shock!

Dinosaurs disappeared from the face of the earth in the fifth extinction and animal species are being wiped out at an unprecedented rate.  In the last 50 years, 67 per cent of the world’s biodiversity was lost.

The Zoo-rassic Park experience in Singapore Zoo and River Safari aims to raise awareness on this issue and encourages visitors to do something to save the world’s biodiversity before it was too late.

It took a while to pluck up my courage for a close encounter experience and I roped in my sisters to join me for a walk with dinosaurs at Zoo-rassic Park. 

Even though these prehistoric animals are created by the wizardry of animatronics, I know the park would display them in a natural and realistic setting and I anticipated how scary it would be to come face-to-face with these titans of the past.  

And I was right.

At the entrance to the Singapore Zoo, there was an ominous looking container pasted with several ‘Danger’ warnings.  And when I stepped closer, I heard menacing rumblings which my imagination reminded me that a mysterious monster inside was threatening to erupt its way out!

Here are some mementoes from our recent walk with the dinosaurs at Zoo-rassic Park:

Getting friendly with an Iguanodon, a herbivorous prehistoric animal
Watch out for this Dilophosaurus which creeps up upon unsuspecting visitors!
My brave sisters posing inside the T-Rex's mouth!
We-fie with the T-Rex!

You can also catch the dinosaurs grazing in their new home at Singapore Zoo and River Safari from now till May 2017.  For more information on Dino-mite admission combo tickets, visit www.zoo.com.sg/zoorasic-park/

Managed by Wildlife Reserves Singapore, world-leading zoological institutions – Singapore Zoo, River Safari, Jurong Bird Park and Night Safari – aim to inspire people to value and conserve biodiversity by providing meaningful and memorable wildlife experiences at their parks.  Website: www.wrs.com.sg

Chill-out Spot

The first thing that struck me when I step into the lobby is the cheerful ambiance created by the colourful backdrop to the reception counter and the matching brightly coloured furniture.
Facade of Amerin Hotel Johor Baru
in Taman Perling, Johor Baru
I can’t help being buoyed up by this paintbox of colours in the reception area and am happy to see its cheerful pattern repeated on the carpet along the corridors leading to our room.

This certainly set the tone for our stay in a family room, furnished with two king-size beds.

My sisters can’t resist inspecting every detail in our room and when I pull aside the curtain, I’m also pleasantly surprised to see that our room on level 6, opens to a private balcony where we can step out to a protected garden area!

We explore the garden where deck chairs are set up under shady giant umbrellas and I just hope the hotel’s CCTV did not catch us cavorting on the artificial grass!

The outdoor garden is indeed a smart idea to create more space, especially for the elderly and families with young children so they need not be confined to their rooms.

The en suite bathroom is separated from the bedroom by a frosted glass wall and we are tickled by how clear it looks with the lights on but I assure my shy sisters that there’s also a roll-up screen to let down for their comfort and privacy!

An extra sink and even a washing machine in some suites
All of us agree that the extra sink in the room is such a boon to a family or group who have two sinks to use among them.

The hotel seems to be thinking ahead of the guests’ needs and even provides a washing machine – complete with detergent for one or more washes – and a dryer, in some of the suites.

The hotel’s interest in their guests’ needs is also evident from the two franchise brands that were invited to open outlets here.

On the ground level, Gloria Jean’s Café offers specialty coffee, cakes and snacks as an alternative for guests who need their daily perk and there’s 7-Eleven, a convenience store for travelers who may need to pick up daily necessities.

Chill-out cool

To catch the tropical sun set, we are at the rooftop’s Chill Out Sky Bar, basking in the balmy breezes and sipping on tall chilled drinks.

A panoramic view of the Chill Out Sky Bar on the hotel rooftop
The Happy Hour crowd is trickling in so we decide against taking a dip in the adjacent pool dubbed the Sky Pool, because of its location on the hotel rooftop.

As the sun sinks down the horizon in a splash of colour, we return to our room and enjoy the private garden while we take turns to shower and dress for dinner.

The table in the Sky View Café is set for a Chinese banquet.  While waiting for dinner to be served, I learn that the café also serves Weekend Tea in a set for two persons (RM58 nett) and Steamboat and Grill Buffet (Adult RM88 nett; Child RM44 nett) on Friday and Saturday.

Our Chef recommended Chinese set menu for dinner
The chef recommended Chinese set menu starts with individual servings of soup of the day, a corn and crabmeat broth, followed by white rice savoured with dishes like steamed broccoli florets in oyster sauce, deep-fried seabass in Thai sauce, chicken in honey barbecue sauce and steamed egg with fresh shrimps.

The dishes are delicious and we thoroughly enjoy our meal in convivial chatter, almost as if we are dining at home!

After a dessert of freshly cut fruits, we head to the rooftop again.  Covered by the dark canopy of night sky, the ambiance at the rooftop Sky Bar is remarkably different from a few hours ago.

By now most of the tables are occupied by hotel and walk-in guests who are enjoying live music entertainment provided by a duo, serenading with English and Chinese lounge favourites.

Seated on bar stools to chill out over cool drinks, relaxing with a view in a striking panorama of lights like a rolled-out glittering carpet before us.

The sight is so mesmerizing that for a moment, we forget that we are in Taman Perling!

Breakfast Buffet

Nobody stirs even after the second alarm sounds its crazy tune.  I crack open my eyes to peek at the time and drag myself up from the comfortable bed to get ready for breakfast.

Finally we are all ready to go for breakfast at the Sky View Café.  I’m told that the buffet spread may not be wide but the food quality is good, so I’m going to find out if it’s true.

A twilight view of Amerin Hotel JB with the top
floors devoted to the Sky View Cafe and Chill Out Sky Bar
First I track down the egg station to place my usual omelet order.  When I collect it later, I’m impressed at how it looks.  I cut through its bouncy moist insides for my first taste and I’m glad it tastes as good as it looks!

My elder sister picks roti to savour with gravy and insists that the lamb curry is so good that she must return to the buffet for another helping.

While I sip my second cup of brewed coffee, I watch my sisters sampling a variety of items from bread to noodles and end with yogurt and an assortment of cut and preserved fruits.

From their satisfied smiles, I know they too discovered that while the spread may not be wide, the food quality is quite good!

All too soon, our staycation is over but from our experience, it may be worthwhile to return to Amerin Johor Baru soon to enjoy their weekend food promotions.

Fast Facts:

Amerin Hotel Johor Baru
No. 35 Persisiran Perling 1
Taman Perling
81200 Johor Baru, Johor
Tel: 607 – 233 0333
Fax: 607 – 233 0331

First Impression  

Contemporary, cheerful and comfortable

Main Attraction

It’s location in a city suburb keeps the hotel close to the city with a 15-minute drive directly to the Second Link into Singapore and leisure attractions in Iskandar Puteri


176 well-appointed rooms and suites dubbed, Amerin, Platinum, Gold, Silver and Family suites as well as disabled-friendly rooms

F&B Outlets

All-day dining at Sky View Cafe with a la carte Asian and Western selections and Chinese set menus; Chill Out Sky Bar & Lounge and specialty coffee at Gloria Jean’s Cafe


Rooftop swimming pool, wellness and beauty centre, in-room dining, in-room washing machine, function rooms, executive boardroom, business centre, convenience store, high-speed wireless internet connection and in-room safe

Getting There

From the Causeway and Senai International Airport via Jalan Skudai, exit to Taman Perling and a short drive will take you to the hotel situated opposite the Perling Mall.  From the Second Link directly into Taman Perling after the toll gates or via the Iskandar Coastal Highway from Iskandar Puteri.

Places Within Walking Distance

Perling Mall and Causeway Link bus station with direct route to Jurong East, Singapore; dining options in a range of restaurants for Italian, Chinese and Nyonya cuisine and street food in nearby shops and stalls

A version of this was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 29 December 2016 

Going green at Green-U Lifestyle Market

I finally found my way to the Green-U Lifestyle Market, not because I don’t know the way to Kangkar Pulai, but only because I never found the time to go to the green lifestyle market held on the first Saturday of each month.

Facade of the Green-U Lifestyle Market premises
I took the route from the city along the Skudai Highway, turned-off to Pontian/Kukup and passed various residential sites before arriving at the urban farm in Kangkar Pulai, situated about half-hour’s drive away from Johor Baru.

Akata Yang, in collaboration with Alex Kee and Teo Peng Chai, are applying organic methods to cultivate the 3-acre Green-U Farm in an urban setting for shoppers to have easy access to safe and fresh fruits and vegetables.  If you are wondering what the “U” in Green-U is for, it just stands for “urban.”

Started in August 2015, the monthly Green-U Lifestyle Market gained momentum as more and more people are making a healthier choice in the food they eat and seeking ideas for a more sustainable lifestyle.  

Chef Ralf preparing his wood-fired pizzas
The green market also provides a platform for small farmers to promote their local produce and share farming tips with shoppers who are keen to start their own kitchen gardens.
Likeminded vendors have come together to showcase their products and as news about the green market spread on social media and by word-of-mouth, shoppers spared no effort to reach the market every first Saturday of the month to buy farm-fresh vegetables, artisanal products and a range of unique handicrafts.

From time to time, the market will feature guest speakers who may share their experience and expertise in community workshops, talks and demonstrations on subjects like garden designing, composting, farming skills, climate change, harvesting wild honey and cooking in themes like, “From Farm to Table.”

Handicrafts and products by Islyly from the Durian Guesthouse
There was always something new and interesting happening at the monthly markets and as soon as I was welcomed in, Akata pointed me to a young chef busy at a smoking wood-fire oven with a queue of people waiting in line to buy his freshly-made pizzas.

It was non-stop action for Ralf Kleine-klatte as I watched him move with great dexterity preparing toppings with farm-fresh ingredients and decorating the made-from-scratch flatbreads, with fresh edible flowers!

Akata explained that Ralf was a chef in Germany who came to work with him as a volunteer in the farm and December’s market was a timely opportunity to give shoppers a treat with tasting artisanal food like his freshly-made wood-fired pizzas.

A child giving her donation to CARES shelter
One of the featured items at the December market was a fund-raising and adoption drive for pet cats and puppies from Companion Animal Rescue Effort Society or CARES shelter for rescued animals.

While young children were drawn to the cute cats and pups, CARES founder, Joseph Chia and his team had a range of preloved items for sale and CARES volunteer, Sharan Sambhi, had baked and decorated cupcakes for sale to raise funds. 

Among the artisanal products and handicraft stalls were Islyly fashion accessories from the Durian Guesthouse, XIN Bubbly handmade soap, Angel Handbag – vintage looking handmade purses and pouches, JoGreen stationery by Johor Green and Seeds Corner – fashion accessories made from seeds collected in our local jungles.

Fresh organic vegetables grown on Green-U Farm
Meanwhile, Alex Kee was busy serving customers who were keen on his bottled fresh ginger ale, brewed in an original English recipe.  Regulars are aware that when they returned the empty bottles, they will receive a refund of RM8 for 1ltr bottles and RM5 for 250ml bottles.

A section of the market was set aside for children’s art and craft activities while the porch was turned into a playground to have fun making giant soap bubbles!

The Green-U Market also offers a farm tour, so shoppers who had pre-registered with Akata, trooped out with him for a farm experience at the adjacent organic farm.

Angel Yew of Angel Handbag with her pretty and useful handicrafts
A range of XIN Bubbly handmade soap are made from natural ingredients for sensitive skins
Pink Liew [Left] of Seeds Corner with her range of fashion accessories made from seeds
Alex Kee [Left] with customers who are keen on his bottled ginger ale
The monthly green market is certainly an interesting weekend destination for the whole family and a worthwhile visit for everyone who are keen to learn more about green living.

Find out more about the next Green-U Market by visiting Facebook/GreenUmarket.  Open from 9am to 1pm on every first Saturday of the month.

Green-U Lifestyle Market is located at Lot 41307, Jalan Pulai Mesra, Kangkar Pulai.

Note: Fresh organic vegetables are also available from Green-U Farm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 10am to 12pm and from 2pm to 4pm.  Shoppers are reminded to bring your own eco-bag or basket.  For advance orders, Tel: +6016-713 1419.

Cherished Christmas Memories

Christmas has always been a very special time for me and I agree with the song-writer that, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

Christmas Day party at our home in Jalan Dato Wilson;
Dad is holding me [Front row Left] distracted by a present!
When we were kids, the magic of Christmas simply means new clothes and lots of presents and toys.  Our parents had a tradition of hosting a Christmas party and we always had a gathering in our home on Christmas Day.

I must confess that I cannot remember much of the celebrations held at our hospital quarters home at Jalan Dato Wilson when I was just a toddler. 

But old photos of Christmas parties held there showed how the small house was cramped with people but everyone was smiling because they were having so much fun.  One of the most memorable Christmas days here was when the hospital compound was flooded due to a super-high tide and monsoon rains!

In those days, we made our own entertainment and dad would organise games for everyone – both young and old – to join in.

My brother in the arms of great-grandmother [Seated]
on the swing in our home at Larkin Gardens
One of the most popular games was “Passing the Parcel” where someone played music for the parcel to be passed around and when the music stopped, the person holding the parcel had to do a forfeit.

Dad would write out the penalty in a slip of paper hidden inside each layer of the wrapping paper and when this person unwrapped one of the multiple layers of the parcel, he or she had to read the forfeit aloud and then do what was written there. 

He was always giving simple forfeits like “act like a monkey, “leap like a frog” or “sing a favourite song.”  It may seem simple to us now but it was often intimidating and rather embarrassing for the child or adult to do that forfeit, watched by an avid audience!

When we moved into our home in Larkin Gardens, we continued to host annual Christmas day parties with mum doing the food catering and dad organizing the games and entertainment.  

All dressed up in Christmas dresses, the three sisters on
dad's car [Far Left] with our guests at Larkin Gardens
Looking at the old photos of our Christmas parties in Larkin, I realise that it was an occasion for all the generations in the extended family to gather for a huge bash.  Considering the number of guests, I guess our parents certainly knew how to be good hosts!

Mum was definitely a good cook and clever caterer. 

I remember the only out-sourced food item in our annual parties was a traditional steamed Malay kueh made by a makcik filled with grated coconut in a perfect balance of Gula Melaka and rice flour, wrapped in banana leaves.  This kueh became a staple item at our annual parties and our guests always looked forward to savouring it, even after we moved away from Larkin.

My sisters and I with our Christmas
presents; That's me with my giant doll!
My brother and I enjoyed helping dad to set up the Christmas tree.  While we were not allowed to touch the string of lights, I was thrilled to hang up the ornaments in the lower part of the tree.  Dad always bought Christmas crackers that were filled with some novelty and he would hang them up using a rubber band or length of thread. 

I was probably too young to help in other preparations and remember just sitting pretty in my new dress that usually felt awfully uncomfortable but I went along with it because I was cooperating and being a good girl at Christmas!

Mum had a tradition of buying my siblings and me one new outfit for Christmas which would double up as the new clothes we would wear for the next Chinese New Year. 

At that time, Johor Baru did not have a decent store to shop for dresses that met my mum’s taste so we always made an annual trip to Singapore’s Chinatown where our clothes were picked from a department store that had a good selection of children’s clothes.

Christmas eve with our aunts in our home in Masai;
Check out my giant doll, still in a place of pride here! 
I must say that mum had good taste in picking out clothes for us and often chose identical outfits but in different colours for her three girls.  It was probably a few years later that she could no longer find the same dress design in our sizes that she started to buy us different dresses for Christmas!

While the new dresses were to be worn on Christmas day, mum would also give us new pajamas to wear to bed on Christmas Eve.  The sets of pretty cotton pajamas that mum bought for us from the Chinese Emporium, would also be of the same design but were distinguished by colours like pastel blue, pink and green.

One of my most favourite gifts ever was a giant doll that had eyes with long lashes that opened and shut when it was lying down.  It was a gift from Ah Kong or grandfather and I treasured it for many years until its rubbery “skin” grew mouldy with age and I finally could no longer keep it.

It was only recently that mum told me the story about this doll from Ah Kong.  The lovely doll was a gift which I so enjoyed that it became the envy of a girl cousin who happens to be an only daughter.  She badly wanted a doll like this so Ah Kong finally got the hint and bought her a similar one!

When our parents were transferred to work with the Health Sub-Centre in Masai, we continued to host Christmas parties in our staff quarters home there.  It was an adventure for our relatives and guests to make their way to Masai because it was quite a journey by the old road in those days before the Pasir Gudang Highway was constructed.

Aunty Polly disguised in her version of Santa
at our Christmas party in Masai
The year-end monsoon season always coincided with Christmas and I remember one year when it rained so heavily that the road between JB and Masai was flooded and impassable for cars.  Only lorries and buses could safely drive through the flood waters.

In spite of the rain, we made our annual trip into Singapore to buy our Christmas outfits and on the return, discovered that we could not drive back to Masai.  I can never forget the adventure we had to make our way home because it was probably the first time we went on a public bus.

Dad must have parked his car at our grandparents’ home at Jalan Ngee Heng while we took the bus back and along the way, I must have fallen asleep out of sheer exhaustion. 

All I remember of that night was the light drizzle when we got down from the bus at the foot of the hill next to the Post Office in Masai, and how we walked up the hill with dad carrying me piggy-back to our home within the compound of the Health Sub-Centre.

An outburst of joy at our Christmas party!
One of my most treasured memories of Christmases in Masai must be the Christmas eves when our aunts came to stay overnight with us.  They were still single then and we, the children of their eldest sister, were on the receiving end of their love and generosity.

After dinner on Christmas Eve, we would shower and dress in our new pajamas and enjoy looking at the gaily wrapped gifts that our parents, Aunty Annie, Aunty Polly and Aunty Sylvia, had put under the Christmas tree.  

There would be a lot of shaking and squeezing of the parcels to guess its contents because we have a tradition of keeping the gifts wrapped until all guests have left at the end of Christmas day. 

The fun of having our aunts sleeping over with us usually kept us awake till later than our usual bedtime but it was all part of the Christmas Eve tradition when we lived in Masai.

I will never forget how Aunty Polly would quietly disappear during the peak of the party on Christmas day and emerge with cotton wool on her face and wrapped in the only red item she could find – the reverse side of a quilt sewn by great-grandmother for my brother – in an attempt to be Santa!  This never failed to thrill the youngsters and set off much laughter among the guests.

Some of our guests at the "Where did you get that hat?"
themed Christmas party in Larkin
After being based in Masai for 13 years, dad retired from government service and we moved back to Larkin Gardens.  Our Christmas parties continued annually with mum doing the food catering for a few more years until catering services became popular and we opted for catered food to let mum take a break from the kitchen.

After dad showed me the ropes in setting up the fairy lights, I gradually took over the setting up the Christmas tree.  As we continued the tradition of hosting a Christmas gathering to share the joy of the reason why we celebrate the season, I also took over his tradition of sending out Christmas cards from his list. 

I enjoyed organising the Christmas party with a free hand in deciding on the various themes while the promise of a prize for the best dressed girl or guy always encouraged good participation.  It was just good fun and among the various themes we enjoyed was, “Where did you get that hat?” where guests were invited to come wearing a hat. 

If guests did not have a hat of their own, we provided party hats or other caps and hats for everyone to wear a hat during the party.  It was amusing to see guests arriving with all manner of hats and even the senior members of the family were such good sports to come decked out in hats!

That young "pirate" [on my Right] cousin Ryan, won the prize
for being the Best Dressed Guy in our "P-Party"
For the “Buttons and Bows” theme, guests came in with outfits that featured buttons and bows.  Some created outfits and accessories with buttons and bows and everyone tried to show off every small button to claim that they did follow the theme.

For the “Purple Party” I arranged to serve food and drinks that were purple in colour, wrapped gifts in purple coloured paper and tied them with purple ribbons – and everyone came dressed in all shades of purple!

The “Flower Power” theme party was quite easy to get into as guests came dressed in outfits with flowery prints or flower accessories.  I remember how two of my girl cousins stole the show with their beautiful Hawaii style outfits complete with flower garlands on their heads, necks and wrists!

LJW, the other "pirate" and me, comparing
our anchor designed tattoos 
My personal favourite was our “P-Party” not because my name starts with “P” but because guests did so well in coming as characters starting with the alphabet “P.”

Among the “P” characters who turned up at our party that year were a pharaoh, a princess, a pedestrian, a prefect, a Punjabi, a Polka-Dot girl, a few punk rockers and two pirates.  Everyone truly deserved a prize for the effort they put into dressing up as a “P” personality!

Of course we always had a few party games which everyone had fun taking part or watching.  Besides dad’s favourite game of “Passing the Parcel,” I devised speed eating/drinking contests and singing talent contests for participants to win prizes.

One of the most unforgettable incidents was when a boy cousin stood up to sing a song that was then rather popular on the radio.  At first, we could hardly recognise the tune of, “Top of the World,” because he shocked us by singing in a strange falsetto voice!

After my brother’s son was born, we broke tradition to spend Christmas away from home for a change.  It was an excursion to transport the family and the festive trimmings all the way to a resort near Malacca for a weekend stay but it was still a memorable time together.

Dad with his grandson, Brendon, at our
Christmas in A'Formosa Resort
As our parents advanced in age, we decided to host our Christmas party at my brother’s home with a catered meal for an ever increasing number of guests.  I guess everyone would remember the highlight of the meal which was the carving of the delicious roasted turkey and leg of lamb we ordered from George & Dragon Café.

A few years ago, my brother and his family relocated to Kuala Lumpur for work and studies and since then our Christmas celebrations were scaled down to small gatherings with the immediate family.  The short time with my brother’s family when they came home for Christmas, made our family reunions ever more precious.

But Christmas will never be the same again after dad’s passing early this year.  While we love and miss dad dearly, we treasure our memories and the legacy of family togetherness at Christmas.  The message of “Peace on earth, goodwill to man,” has a special meaning as it echoes the peace we have knowing that dad has gone to be with the Prince of Peace.

As I’m writing this, the radio is playing music from a popular station and when a Christmas carol is sung by a pop group, I pause to listen.  I recognise it as, “Mary’s Boy Child,” and the truth in the lyrics repeated in its chorus, “And man will live for evermore, because of Christmas day,” is deeply reassuring.

Gone are the days of large groups coming to celebrate with us in our humble home but we certainly have many cherished memories of Christmases that we still fondly talk about.  

So have a blessed Christmas and make more memories with your loved ones! 

'Tis the season at DoubleTree by Hilton JB

It’s my pleasure to participate in a preview of the Christmas fare at the Makan Kitchen in DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru this festive season and I arrive on time to see the kitchen team working hard to arrange the roasted turkey for its most flattering display.

DoubleTree by Hilton's signature chocolate chip cookies
are featured in their lobby's festive decorations
The roasted turkey, estimated about 5 kg in weight, shared its tray with traditional stuffing of chestnuts and fruits and I also spied a mouth-watering rack of beef spare ribs which I later learnt, was braised in its own jus for up to 6 hours!
On a separate platter, there were slices of herb-crusted, pan-fried salmon steaks topped with tomato salsa and drizzled with orange butter sauce.  Chef Zul Aman Mohamad Arsad better known as Chef Carlos, helpfully clarified that it was Beurre Blanc (French for white butter sauce).

Fish is being presented as another meat option for diners at the Makan Kitchen’s Christmas and New Year Seafood Buffet Dinner [RM150 nett] on Dec 24, 25 and 31.

A plump roasted turkey to savour with traditional
stuffing and cranberry sauce
A quick look at the festive buffet gave me an idea of how the Makan Kitchen is serving a wider range of salads and appetizers like sliced smoked beef and smoked duck fillets in Special Buffet Dinners [RM100 nett] daily from Dec 1 to 22 (Sunday to Thursday).

Besides a variety of cheeses to savour with crackers and cashew nuts, diners can look forward to freshly made pasta prepared in favourite bolognaise, carbonara or aglio olio sauces.

In food previews, the protocol was for everyone to capture enough photos to their satisfaction, before the featured items may finally be sampled.

Some of the season's featured items at the Makan Kitchen
When everyone was satisfied with their photos, Chef Carlos and his team removed the roasted turkey, beef spare ribs and salmon steaks from the display to carve and warm-up before serving.

The kitchen team certainly took pride in their culinary creations and wanted to be sure that what we sampled was what diners would enjoy when they helped themselves to their fill from the festive buffet spread.

While waiting for the featured items to be ready, I explored the Makan Kitchen to check out the buffet and couldn’t resist helping myself to freshly grilled skewers of satay and some leafy green salad.

Salmon steak, beef spare ribs and roasted turkey!
At the salad bar, Saravana Kumar, a Management Trainee with the hotel, introduced himself and said to call him Sara, the short-form of his name.  

I must confess that it took me a moment to get used to calling a young man, Sara, because the many Sara’s I know, are all ladies!

I learnt that Sara was among the management trainees selected to gain further experience with postings to the various DoubleTree by Hilton properties nationwide before they were appointed to management positions in the hotel chain.

Slices of gingerbread, traditional log cake,
stollen and half a mince pie [hidden!]
Throughout the meal, Sara gave us his attentive service and after we savoured the delicious main course of roasted turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, juicy beef spare ribs and tangy salmon steak, he asked if anyone wished to have coffee or tea.

While he took orders all around, I hesitated simply because although I would enjoy a good coffee after such a sumptuous meal, I knew that even a tiny shot of caffeine would only keep me awake.

After the others received their steaming brews of coffee, Sara noticed that I did not place any beverage order and he graciously enquired with me again.

By this time, dessert was served and I knew that a coffee would perfectly complement it, so I told Sara that if possible, I would like a cup of decaf coffee.

His response was both spontaneous and confident when he not only assured me that I would get my decaf (and much-needed beauty sleep!) but he would also make it a hot cappuccino!

Saravana Kumar, or Sara in short,
serving my decaf coffee!
And I was right.  Mmm… A hot cuppa certainly complemented the delightful dessert of slices of gingerbread, traditional log cake and stollen as well as half a mince pie.

This was just a sample of the festive cookies and Christmas goodies made by Pastry Chef Firdaus and his team that are available from the Food Store during this season.

Makan Kitchen also serves a Seafood Buffet Dinner [RM128 nett] from Dec 26 to 30 and on weekends (Friday and Saturday).

High-Tea Buffet fans can also plan to enjoy a leisurely meal at the Christmas High-Tea Buffet [RM100 nett] from 12.30pm to 4.30pm on Dec 25, and the New Year’s High-Tea [RM90 nett] from 12.30pm to 4pm on Jan 1, 2017.

DoubleTree by Hilton JB is at 12 Jalan Ngee Heng, 80000 Johor Baru. For reservations, Tel: 607 – 268 6868.  For more festive promotion details, visit Facebook DoubleTreeJB.