Brunch at Toby’s Estate


It is Labour Day today!  (And it has been exactly a year since I went back to work.  Time really flies.)  We went for brunch at Toby’s Estate, a cafe located near Gallery Hotel at Rodyk Street.

For some reason, brunch-ing in Singapore seems to be synonymous with “digging into a plate of cholesterol-laden Eggs Benedict”.  I hate Eggs Benedict.  There is something about the combination of Hollandaise sauce and runny egg yolks that simply tastes awful.  So Eggs Benedict, Eggs Royale,  Eggs Florentine, Eggs-so-on-and-so-forth isn’t for me.

My ideal brunch is a plate of hot, fluffy pancakes with some honey. I also hate maple syrup. Or a plate of scrambled eggs on toast.  

At Toby’s, J ordered the Eggs B.  They were quite good about replacing the prosciutto with bacon, so that’s a plus point for the place.  He thought that the Eggs B were okay, and since he licked his plate clean, it should be quite decent.


Unfortunately for me, Toby’s Estate doesn’t do pancakes.  Hear me grind my teeth.  In my view, it is a travesty for a breakfast/brunch sort of place not to have pancakes on its menu.  But well.  We adjust.  So I ordered scrambled eggs on toast. And so did K.  In the case of Toby’s Estate, they serve scrambled eggs on toasted brioche.  The brioche was very good, but the eggs were alright, just not great. I think the flavour of the eggs is missing out on something. It needs more milk, or more cream, or more of both.  

K and I ate up the brioche, and left behind a ton of eggs. I don’t know how they made the brioche, but it has a melt-in-your-mouth texture; not chewy like how bread is.  The next time I go there, I am just gonna order a plate of toasted brioche with jam.

TBH ordered a Toby’s Breakfast, which is the usual big breakfast comprising of the full works. Bacon, eggs, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and brioche.  He held the same view as the scrambled-eggs-on-toast-duo – brioche was really good; everything else was fairly ordinary.


I was tempted to try their Piccolo Latte, but remembered what happens to me every time I have a cup at Oriole’s.  Because Oriole uses ristretto in its Piccolo Latte which is too strong for my stomach, I suffer from a day-long bout of nausea after drinking a cup. I wasn’t about to take my chances with Toby’s so I ordered a flat white and TBH ordered a macchiato. Verdict – coffee was alright but Jewel’s is still better.




Overall, I like Toby’s Estate ambience. It is bright and cheery, with high ceilings and a relaxed vibe. The indoor seating area is confined to a long bench where customers enjoy a communal-style of eating. I like that.

The cafe was very crowded when we arrived today, even though we were there at slightly past 9am. I spotted so many interesting gadgets and knick-knacks in the cafe and would have liked to capture them on camera, but I gave up on the idea given the large number of people in the cafe.


The kids were quite taken with the pig-rabbit plush, and insisted on taking it along for brunch. The plush does look quite cute eh? Whisked from the streets of Seoul to hot and humid Singapore, it is now in the hands of loving owners (I hope!).


Having caught sight of the plush, a toddler siddled up to K with her eyes fixated to it for a long while. Was she going to insist on holding it, and keeping it? It then turns out that her dad is someone we know…!  Small world.

I think Toby’s Estate is a nice place to hang out on a weekday, when it isn’t crowded with hoards of people. It can be a little stressful eating there when you see people streaming in looking for a seat, and you feel somewhat obliged to eat quickly and bugger off.

Seoul: Bukchon Walk With Robert Koehler (Part I)

I have been facing some difficulties with this blog for the last month or two.  I am getting my host provider and ISP provider to to do some troubleshooting for me.  The preliminary assessment is that a trojan horse or virus may have entered my WordPress scripts.  I have trouble publishing certain posts, and from time to time, I am unable to get into my admin dashboard to manage the blog.   For the time being, my home broadband network has refused to connect to the website and I have been able to connect only through my iPhone hotspot.  Together with the hot and humid weather, this has been a real bother.

This post about exploring Bukchon is one of those that the blog has “refused to publish”.  Everytime I hit the “Publish” button, I get an error message repeatedly and the blog hangs.  I am not sure what is causing the problem yet.  Okay, I am going to try posting this again, and am crossing my fingers that it will finally work.



We joined a guided walk of Bukchon led by Robert Koehler of Seoul Selection on a Saturday afternoon, after we visited the Ewha Womans University in the morning. It started at 2.30pm and was slated to end at 5.30pm, but it went on for a bit longer. A three-hour walk sounds like rather long, but time tends to fly past very quickly whenever one is having a good time.

We have been to Bukchon several times to see the beautiful Korean hanoks, but I thought it would be more interesting to join a guided walk, and have a native English-speaking guide fill us in on the historical background of the place. Which was what Robert did very well. He provided us with interesting nuggets of information regarding the history of the country, the Bukchon neighbourhood, and the various historical places which we stopped along the way – such as the Seoul Education Museum, Jeongdok library, Joongang High School.

I liked that he gave us the right amount of information, at the right pace, to whet our interest and arouse our curiosity about what we heard, but without us feeling overwhelmed by having heard too much information. Having lived in Korea for 15 years, and as an English teacher when he first arrived, he also shared with us his personal perspective into the culture of the South Koreans. It was all very interesting and enjoyable, and it is something that I will recommend to friends who are visiting Seoul, regardless whether they have been there before or for the first time.

My only grouses about the walk was that the group of 11 that day was a little too big, and that Bukchon was very crowded on a Saturday afternoon, and it was impossible to enjoy a leisurely walk. I had to strain my ears to follow what Robert was saying as we walked down the busy streets of Bukchon. He did mention that our group that had signed up for that day’s walk was the largest that he has seen so far. Also, unless the walk is held very early on a weekday morning, I am not sure if we would see less crowds on any other afternoon during the week. It just means that we will have to return to Bukchon on our own another day, very early in the morning, to enjoy a quiet stroll in the neighbourhood, without having to jostle with hoards of people. I pity the residents living in Bukchon – I imagine the amount of noise generated by hoards of people right outside your doorstep almost everyday? There is hardly any peace and privacy for the residents. Living there, I would definitely go mad.


The meeting point for the guided walk was Seoul Selection’s bookshop located right outside the Gyeongbokgung Palace walls, on the stretch of road leading towards Samcheong-dong. It wasn’t difficult for us to make our way to the bookshop, as we are fairly familiar with that area. The bookshop, located in the basement of the building, looks like a cosy place to hang out for a couple of hours, browsing various genres of book relating to the history, culture and tourism in Korea. It is a fairly small place, nothing like the mammoth Kyobo.





We headed towards Samcheong-dong, walking past this huge construction area where the government is building a new art museum – the National Art Museum,Seoul – on the site of the former headquarters of the Defense Security Command and Armed Forces Seoul District Hospital.

Try walking around that stretch of road during autumn – it stinks to high heaven when the roads and pavements are lined with fallen, rotting gingko fruits.

I love the graffiti art seen here. I could barely keep up with the group while trying to snap away on my camera.

Our first stop was the Seoul Education Museum, a lovely red-brick low-rise building. The museum, a fairly small one, has quite a good display of books, documents and writing tools to explain the history and role of education in Korea, and how it transformed South Korea into the powerhouse it is today.




This group of people posing with the stand-up posters at the entrance of the museum cracked me up, and I just had to take a shot of them. The one thing that I always enjoy in Korean museums is the display of models of houses, buildings and people in relaying information regarding the Korean way of living, its people, activities and culture during the Joseon dynasty.

Our second stop was the Jeongdok Public Library. The grounds of the library houses three colonial-era buildings – the Seoul Education Museum, the library itself and one other building that I might not have seen during the walk (or perhaps, was not part of the walk). I read that the was the former Kyeonggi High School, the best (or one of the best) high schools in Seoul.



The arched entrance of Jeongdok Library offers a wonderful view of downtown Seoul.


I can imagine how beautiful the grounds of the library are during the cherry blossom season in spring and in autumn when the gingko trees change colours. This place warrants a repeat visit the next time I visit Seoul as I would like to spend more time wandering around the library and its expansive grounds.

After leaving Jeongdok Library, we walked up the winding Bukchon alleyways and arrived at this viewing spot, which overlooks into the streets of Samcheong-dong below. It would have been nice to rest our legs over a cup of expresso at the rooftop alfresco cafe.



It is time to stop here, and I will continue with the rest of the Bukchon walk in a separate post. If the blog doesn’t go completely out of action.

Seoul: To-Die-For Tosokchon Samgyetang


I never pass up an opportunity to eat a bowl of samgyetang from Tosokchon whenever I am in Seoul. Before Tosokchon, I was never a big fan of samgyetang. I find the broth in most of the samgyetang that I have tried to be weak, and somewhat bland. I like my soups and broths to be robust, milky and strong in flavour. Which is exactly how Tosokchon makes its samgyetang.

You can tell from the photo of the soup how delicious the soup is. It is robust and milky. Very flavourful and delicious. I just want the broth, and don’t really care about the chicken and glutinous rice.

They serve customers a small glass of wine together with the soup. You are supposed to down the wine before you drink the soup. The combined effect of the wine and soup warms your body up. Lovely in cold weather.

Directions to Tosokchon are here!

Manga: Ekiben Hitoritabi

I have recently started reading this really interesting gourmet manga called Ekiben Hitoritabi on JManga, a manga portal.  JManga allows manga readers access to their mangas online using a point system.  I purchase a certain number of JManga points with cash, and the points are deducted from my account whenever I buy a manga from the portal.

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One can read the manga directly from JManga, or you can download the PDF onto your computer and read it using a PDF reader.  I prefer the former.  The manga loads quite quickly on my MacBook Air, but it doesn’t work on my iPad or my Windows-based notebook.  I am not sure why, and I haven’t written to the website to find out.  For the time being, I am happy to read mangas from my MacBook Air.

Ekiben Hitoritabi is a slice-of-life story about a 35 year old man called Daisuke Nakahara who travels around Japan by trains to eat bentos sold exclusively at train stations.  Hence, the name “Ekiben Hitoritabi” – “ekiben” refers to “bentos sold at train stations” and “hitoritabi” means “travelling alone”.

Daisuke is a man who loves bentos and trains.  He is a married man who runs a bento shop in Tokyo.  On his tenth wedding anniversary, to fulfil his personal dream, his wife bought him a train ticket that allows him to travel around Japan by train.  He makes it a point not to travel by shinkansen, as he wants to be able to enjoy the scenery through the windows of a normal-speed train.


Like most gourmet mangas such as Oishinbo, Ekiben Hitoritabi has enough food porn to send one’s saliva glands into overdrive.  Aside from exquisitely drawn drawings of bentos and detailed explanations of the bento specialities in each Japanese prefecture, what I found interesting about this manga is that it provides some insights into the history of the Japanese train systems, and introduces the readers to the background of various trains that serve the country.  Even though I am not a fan of trains, I found the trivia relating to the local, express and sleeper trains relayed by Daisuki in the manga fascinating.

That’s one of the good things about reading manga – it livens up alot of technical (and otherwise dull) stuff with beautiful drawings and simple explanations, and stimulates my interest in things which I might never have been keen to read about.  Besides gastroporn and trains, the manga also includes drawings of paranomic views of Japan seen through the window of a train.

Reading this manga makes me want to do a Daisuke-style holiday, criss-crossing Japan on trains, eating delicious bentos found at train stations.  This manga serves as a splendid train-travel guidebook, because it offers so much detail on which train station to stop at, what train to hop on, and it even provides train schedules so you know exactly what time a train arrives at and departs from a station.  Knowing the Japanese to be sticklers for perfection, I am pretty certain that most of the train-related information in the manga should be fairly accurate.


Peekture: Friday Sunset


The end of a work week.

Instead of taking a bus to pick up my car, I decided to take a leisurely walk on Friday evening. And took a short break at the fountain in front of Capital Tower, where I caught a glimpse of the orange rays behind the clouds before they disappeared from the horizon very quickly.

Seoul: Seodaemun Prison Museum


We visited the Seodaemun Prison Museum one cold, drizzling morning. This was my second visit to the museum – the first trip was in 2007, also on a cold, drizzling morning – which was established to remember the Korean patriots who died in their fight for Independence against the Japanese colonial masters.

I remember feeling slight discomfort at the sight of the museum exhibits depicting torture chambers. Unlike the first visit, I didn’t get the chills this time, probably because the museum was crowded with hoards of school children on an excursion, and my imagination was too distracted by their chattering to feel creeped-out by the exhibits.

Wandering around the grounds of the prison museum, I was so taken with the red-bricked architecture of the compound that it was hard to imagine that this place was Korea’s largest Japanese-run prison after the country was colonised in 1910, housing thousands of prisoners who were imprisoned for participating in anti-imperialist activities.  The entire prison museum, comprising several buildings, is a fraction of the actual size of the prison.

The overcast sky cast a mistiness over the place, adding a surreal and sorrowful feel to the place.



^ This is the first building that we visited. It houses the gory exhibits of torture chambers that I mentioned earlier, as well as visual displays explaining the background of the period of time in Korean history when the Joseon dynasty ended and the Japanese occupied the country, and how the Korean people fought to liberate their country.  We could understand what was in the visual displays as they come withEnglish explanations.


^ Beautiful penmanship by a prisoner.





These buildings with a huge banner of South Korea hung over its walls house former prison cells.



The museum put up exhibits outside the cells of several prisoners, showing photographs of them when they were young, when they got married, with their families and their grown up children. Some have passed away while others are still alive to tell people stories of their past lives and hardships as activists.








Photobucket ^ This is known as the ‘Wailing Poplar Tree’, outside the prison’s execution chambers. It was said that wailing prisoners grabbed this tree while walking to the execution chambers.

Besides the Korean palaces and the National Folk Museum, the prison museum is another place that I recommend people visit in Seoul, if one is interested in the country’s tulmultous history in the last 100 hundred years.

I would visit it again – perhaps not the exhibit halls – but to wander around the compound, trying to imagine the lives of thousands of prisoners who have suffered and died in the grounds that I was standing on.  It is a humble, sombre and depressing place to be in, but being there makes me feel grateful that I live in peace times, in a country that is free from oppression and civil unrest.


Seoul: Easter Egg From Myeongdong Cathedral


I bought this Easter egg at a fair held in Myeongdong Cathedral on Easter Sunday, and gave it to a friend who is Catholic.

This sounds silly. But I wasn’t sure whether the pouch held a real egg when I bought it. I was concerned that the egg, if it was a real egg, may break in my suitcase.

Of course it was a real egg.  Happy that it arrived home intact, albeit with a slightly cracked shell.

The shade of deep green painted on the egg is beautiful and I like the little floral ribbon, sealed with a pretty floral sticker, that goes around the egg.

Seoul: Ewha Womans University


I visited Ewha Womans University (I know the spelling ‘Womans’ is an odd one because there isn’t such a word in English, is there…?) for the first time during autumn in 2010, and was bowled over by the beauty of the architecture and grounds, framed by trees covered in yellow, gold and red leaves. I will post those autumn photos soon.

In that 2010 visit, I didn’t get a chance to take a walk around the compound which I made up for during this trip.  Ewha is one of Korea’s top universities, and was one of the first universities to enroll women.  I think it is still an all-women university right now, but it takes in male international students.

I would have loved to study in a university that looked like that.  It looks like a a campus in England.


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