The art exhibition that we went to because there was nothing else to do

The National Gallery of Australia is hosting Masterpieces from Paris – a collection of Post-Impressionism from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. The exhibition boasts the most extraordinary collection of French art to come to Australia (although I don’t think Australia got the best paintings that the museum owned), and showcases paintings by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Pissaro etc.

Phew, I’ve already used more foreign words than I would care to admit in the previous paragraph. The truth is that neither of us are art enthusiasts, nor do we know much about art. But it was a restless Sunday afternoon, and there was nothing else to do, so we decided to go to the exhibition and pretend to be knowledgeable in this Post-Impressionism business.

The exhibition was divided into six rooms, with names that didn’t mean much to me (neo-impressionism, after impressionism, symbolism, decoration etc). There were perhaps a hundred or so paintings. I am extremely proud of myself to have recognised two of them by sight –  Van Gogh’s Starry Night and his Bedroom in Arles – but perhaps anyone would have known what they were! I liked the Bedroom so much that I bought the A3 print (a very reasonable $9.95) from the gallery shop, not because I want to pretend to be an art lover but because I actually really like it.

The painting is of a small and neat bedroom, with very simple furnishings that somehow doesn’t seem so simple under Van Gogh’s brush. I guess it appeals to my like for orderliness with a bit of quirk thrown in. It now sits prettily in the second bedroom.

Part 2 – Siem Reap (C) – ‘I can stay here forever if it wasn’t for the mossies’

Our first stop is Siem Reap. Even without the guidebooks, we know that much of Cambodia’s former glory is on display here, including the famous Angkor Wat.

But it was no glory that we saw crossing the Thai / Cambodian border. Compared to Thailand, Cambodia is evidently a much poorer country, with less infrastructure and cars on the road. It was an eight hour bus trip to Siem Reap from the Thai border, we were told that we were lucky because they just finished paving the road three months ago, otherwise it would have been a very bumpy ride. We saw lots of little kids fishing, farmers tending to livestock, crowds riding on the back of trucks and motorbikes (the most was six people on a single motorbike) – scenes of daily country life that aren’t very different from rural China. The Cambodians are obviously a very patriotic bunch, the Cambodian flag was raised every few metres on both sides of the road.

The Thai/Cambodian border

Typical Cambodian means of transport

We arrived in Siem Reap in the evening. The threat of catching malaria  is high in Cambodia, and putting on a tropical strength insect spray is not something we overlooked. So after slathering ourselves in insect spray, our tour group headed out to town for dinner.

Apsara dancers

This was the first time I tried the famous Cambodian dish – amok – which is meat, often fish, cooked in a light egg (and coconut?) based curry. The amok here was full of flavour and served in a neatly folded banana leaf. I didn’t mind that the dish was from a backpacker filled area, if it tastes good, who cares about authenticity?

We finished dinner with some deep fried banana spring rolls, dipped in condensed milk. Oh, did I mention the traditional apsara dancers? There was a raised platform in the restaurant, where girls dressed in beautiful traditional attire, called apsara dancers, were drawing everyone’s attention. In Hindu mythology, demons and gods joined forces to churn the ocean of milk with a huge snake, for an entire millenium, in order to free great treasures from the ocean. In the process of churning, bubbles formed and rose above the ocean, and these bubbles became the beautiful apsaras.

To be continued…

Fish amok

Sono, Portside Wharf, Brissie

Sono has been operating in Brisbane for years and years. It was one of the first few Japanese restaurants in the city, and then there was Sono Portside Wharf, Hamilton. I have always wanted to try the food there, which is supposed to be extremely good.

We were in Brisbane recently. Due to the lack of private transport, I decided to catch public transport to Portside Wharf from my parents’ house. Public transport is fantastic in Brisbane – we caught a bus to the city and then took the Citycat from South Bank. Citycat is like a supercharged ferry, but it still took us 40 minutes from the city to Hamilton (it probably takes 15 minutes by car if the traffic is good).

But all the travel was well worth it. Sono is decorated beautifully, in simple Japanese setting, spacious and elegant. We were seated next to the window (I knew this already, as I was told this when I made a booking). The seating area is a level down from the table, which means you had to take off your shoes and climb into your seat. I must, at this point, marvel at the amazing bathroom. You enter the bathroom by pressing a button on the wall, and the dark tinted glass automatically slides back, revealing doors to the bathrooms. How cool is that!

Our beautifully set table:

For starters, we ordered a large plate of assorted sashimi, which consisted of different cuts of salmon, king fish, tuna, and scallops. I really enjoyed the sashimi, because I could actually taste the difference between the different cuts, and we polished off 24 pieces of raw fish in no time.

For mains, we shared Sono’s signature dish of South Queensland Kobe Cuisine wagyu steak, medium rare, in a garlic soy jus, served with butter sautéed seasonal vegetables. The steak was perfectly charred on the outside, but the inside was cooked absolutely spot on to medium rare. The meat did not taste fatty or sinewy, top grade beef!

I chose the black cod saikyo yaki – grilled NZ black cod, which, according to the menu, was pre-marinated with a traditional saikyo miso sauce for at least 2 days. The fish had a semi-crispy skin, which was tantalisingly sticky with marinade. It was cooked just right, and a very substantial serving. Simply orgasmic.

Well, we loved Sono, and would definitely go back. Everything was perfect, down to the quick and polite service.

A shot of Brisbane city on our way back home: