Sunday, 22 March 2015

Afternoon Tea @ The Helena May

Back in the days when I was in uni, I was fascinated by a colonial-style building on Garden Road every time I travelled from HKU to Admiralty by bus. My heart ineluctably jumped as I peeped through the tall windows and caught a glimpse of the elegant interior. I had no idea what it was because Google Maps wasn't even invented back then (this is going to give my age away :P). I asked a number of my friends if they had noticed that quaint white building near the Peak Tram Terminus, but they only gave me a puzzled look that had once made me wonder if I was the only person who could see the building...  :0

Then I graduated and no longer saw the building on my way home. I had forgotten all about it until one day, when one of my bosses told me about a club for women called The Helena May. She said she loved that place for its gracious atmosphere. "Is that on Garden Road?" I asked excitedly, before my boss confirmed that the mysterious heritage building was indeed the club that she was talking about. 

The Helena May. I was happy that the mystery was finally solved, and I thought that's the end of it. Since it's a private club it had not occurred to me that I would have the chance to visit it. But then a few years ago, I was invited to my chongmate's wedding banquet which was hosted at The Helena May! I was exhilarated and could not help counting down to the wedding. It's only later that I learnt from my friends that The Helena May was in fact a very popular wedding venue (to book the venue you have to be a member but the joining fee is reasonable) and was far more accessible than I had thought. 

Finally my chongmate's wedding day came and I set foot in The Helena May for the first time. I was not disappointed at all. The decor was pretty much like what I had imagined: whitewashed walls, wooden floor, arched windows, curtains with exotic prints greeted every guest with an air of Britishness. I was 100% certain that a historical British establishment like this would offer afternoon tea. It has to, I thought, or it would be like a man without a soul. 

While I was contemplating various ways to ask my chongmate's wife to take me there without sounding odd, I read from The Helena May's official website that the club welcomed visitors from the public on their annual open day and visitors could enjoy the dining facilities on the day! This piece of info had saved me from much awkwardness. ;P

I eventually made it to their open day last year. To say it's an open day is in fact quite misleading, because technically the premise was not open to the public until the afternoon. We were ushered into the charming sun-filled Garden Room, where the guided tours started. We learnt from our guide that The Helena May was founded in 1916 and named after the wife of the then-Governor of HK. Its mission was originally to support women who moved to HK from foreign countries. Nowadays, it is meant to be an affordable club for women from local and international communities to meet and socialize. 

Leafy garden outside the Garden Room

We entered the the old-fashioned library from the garden, breathing in the scent of old books. This library reminds me of the college libraries in Oxford. As a bookworm I am sure that I can spend a whole day here. :)

The highlight of the tour was the guestrooms (one can stay here by becoming a resident member), which are generally not accessible as they tend to be occupied. On our way to the rooms, we were shown this interesting set of devices, the speaking tube and bell. It allowed residents on different floors to communicate back in those days when there was no telephone. 

One of the guestrooms

I think this is called The Green Room. There's scaffolding outside the windows because major renovation was underway to prepare the Helena May for its 100th birthday next year. 

My favourite room is, needless to say, the Blue Room. :) Love love love the royal blue theme colour and the heavy use of velvet in this room! 

Lounge area just next to the dining area

At the end of the tour, visitors were welcomed to enjoy afternoon tea in the Main Lounge. It's crazily popular and almost no one walked away without trying their tea sets! Hellish and I were glad that we were in the first tour of the day so we were seated immediately. :) There were 2 tea sets on offer:

The Helena May platter (clockwise from top) - scone, mango filo roll, quiche Lorraine, ratatouille pizza, Scottish salmon open face sandwich, finger sandwiches (cucumber and tuna), chocolate petit fours, raspberry macaroon, carrot cake

1916 Platter (clockwise from top) - finger sandwiches (cucumber and tuna), walnut macaroon, fresh berry tart, sherry trifle, mushroom vol-au-vent, mango filo roll, scone, vegetarian burrito, grilled vegetable focaccia

I was slightly disheartened that the tea sets came in the form of platters rather than being served on tiered stands as usual. Yet I fully understood that with the large number of visitors, they needed to churn out tea sets rapidly to ensure a high turnover, so pre-arranged platters was their only way out. And anyway, as a non-member I was already very grateful that I could have tea there!

It would be a mistake to judge the food by its basic appearance; most of them were surprisingly good despite the simple ingredients and unpretentious names. I actually expected the food to be so-so or perhaps even a bit stale because that's normally the case for mass-produced dishes. The crispy filo roll, crunchy pizza and egg-shell-like texture of the macaroons however all screamed freshness and protested against my preconception. :P The scones were amazing in particular. They were big enough to be eaten with lots of jam and cream but also dainty enough to whet our appetite rather than killing it. They had that beautiful, golden brown sheen on the top, and were crumbly on the outside but airy on the inside - you know, just what classic English scones should be. They seemed to be conveying the message that, although the colonial era has long passed, the English tradition has been well preserved and is still thriving here at The Helena May. 

Last but not least, at a time when good value for money has almost gone the way of the dodo, it's comforting to know that each tea set cost only $98, tea or coffee or soft drink included. It appears that the Helena May lives up to its mission - to be a welcoming and affordable organization. 

Mission completed and I was satisfied. :) It was such a lovely afternoon. 

Ambience: A+ (I wish I could live here. I mean it!!)

Service: A (Service was efficient but courteous)

Food: A-- (Quintessential English afternoon tea despite the absence of tiered stand!)

Overall remarks: As the government continues to tear down heritage buildings thoughtlessly and allow historical monuments to be turned into soulless hotels in the name of "revitalization" one after another, The Helena May has stood firmly for almost a century, contributing to the preservation of local heritage and Hongkongers' collective memory. This alone deserves respect and support. This year they cancel their open day due to renovation, but do watch out for their update regarding their 100th year celebration! :) 

The Helena May (website)
35 Garden Road, Central, Hong Kong
* Helena May is normally open to members only, but it is open to public on certain special occasions. Please see here for more information.

Monday, 9 March 2015

First update in 2015!

It is already March, but since this is my very first post in 2015 I would like to say "Happy New Year" to all my dear readers... well, maybe saying "Sorry" is more appropriate. :P

My quality of life has hit a record low in the first quarter of 2015, which explains the total abandonment of this blog. :( Hellish and I moved into our semi-permanent residence in Jan and then we had the CNY holiday in Feb. While these are things worth celebrating, the strenuous packing-moving-unpacking process and relentless rounds of CNY gatherings had sucked up all our time and energy before we could plan any celebration... 

Now that CNY is over, it's time for some nourishing activities... which means blogging and chado (Way of Tea) practice at home! Life is finally good again. :)

And I am taking wagashi class again. These sweets, nerikiri, were what I made in my last class. :) Making wagashi is truly a test of patience and fine motor function (I suck at both, sadly)... but it's exceedingly rewarding when you have successfully made a decent piece of sweet. Of course, the "likes" you get when you post pictures of your creations on FB are very strong reinforcers too. :P

As for afternoon tea review, I have plenty to write about!! The only problem is when I will have the time to write them all. Let's hope I can write my first review in 2015 this month!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

More Wagashi Before Autumn Goes Away

It's getting colder and it's almost time to say goodbye to autumn. It's great that I managed to enjoy more autumn wagashi - with some of my best friends - before my favourite season slips away. :) 

I made kinton in my second wagashi class. It was such a pain to make the prickly spikes of the chestnut kinton on the left! No wonder wagashi is so expensive... the kinton on the right was much easier to make, and I would definitely make it again someday. It looks like sweet potato but disappointingly, it tastes nothing like sweet potato because it's made from white beans. :P 

I will be taking a break from wagashi class and also this blog because I will be busy till the end of 2014. Hellish and I are moving out from our apartment, then we will go to Scandinavia (yay!) for our much needed vacation. After our trip, there will be lots of Christmas gatherings... enough said. So see you in 2015!! 

Saturday, 18 October 2014


Autumn has arrived - finally something worth celebrating in the midst of depressing and plastic news. 

It almost seems sinful to write about food at this time of social unrest, and it's the reason why I have not published any new tea review lately. But now I am thinking, perhaps it is good to write rather than spending my time reading FB. Every day I read articles on the Umbrella Movement from 3 different newspapers in order to remain as objective as possible... and reading FB now feels like reading newspaper for the 4th time and makes my heart heavy. :0  I guess writing something completely irrelevant to politics may help restore my peace of mind. 

So, new tea reviews are on the way! Thanks for checking this blog despite the lack of update. :) 

Btw, these are the kurimanju (chestnut buns) that I made in my first wagashi (Japanese sweets) class.  Nothing beats chestnuts in autumn. Nothing.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Macarons @ Jouer

This is a long overdue post. I finally got the time to write when I had a day of sick leave... it's true when people say minor ailment is a blessing. 

It was a steaming hot evening in early July. While not as graphic as a polar bear on floating ice, isn't this summer - the stickiest summer EVER in my life - a solid proof of climate change? :( Walking in the streets in such weather and sweltering in work clothes was hardly the smartest idea, but I just couldn't wait to check out Jouer, a stylish shop that sells both homeware and macarons, after reading about it in several magazines. 

Jouer is located in Sau Wa Fong. I had no idea where it was until I looked up the place in Google Map and learnt that it's within my favourite haunt Star Street Precinct! When I was finally there I saw why I had missed Sau Wa Fong all along. Apparently the only way to reach it is by climbing a flight of unassuming steps from St Francis Street. The flight is signposted but the sign is so small that it easily goes unnoticed. 

Crowd-phobic me immediately fell in love with this obscure little square for its tranquility and quirky shops. The empty, tree-shaded street made me feel relaxed and calm, even though I was almost soaked in sweat. I found Jouer at the end of the street. 

The moment I entered the shop, I was mesmerized. Look at all the tastefully arranged vintage-style decorations and curiosities - doesn't it look like a shop in Paris (the French name Jouer certainly helps with the association!)? Every corner was just so photogenic, no wonder it's often featured in magazine photo shoots! The lady in the shop was so nice that she let me take tonnes of pictures during my brief visit. :) Although none of my pix does justice to Jouer's chicness due to my poor photography skills, let me show you some snapshots:

Penguin Clothbound Classics make great photo props!

Beautiful customizable cook books set from Juniper Books :)

Macarons here...

Macarons there...

Macarons everywhere!

Even the backyard exudes rustic charm

I don't think anyone can leave the shop empty-handed after seeing so many tempting macarons around! At the time of my visit Jouer was offering a 4-course macaron "menu du jour", which consisted of both savoury and sweet macarons. I ordered it without any hesitation! :P The 4 flavours were:

Appetizer - French onion soup
Main - "Partner in Crime" (foie gras & Sauternes)
Cheese course - Ancient blue cheese
Dessert - Classic French apple tart

Because the minimum order is 6 pieces of macarons, I chose 2 more from Jouer's signature Asian flavours. They had a range of exotic flavours like Tom Yum, Chinese Vinegar & Ginger, Kaya & Salt, etc. on offer. My choices were HK-Style Milk Tea and Ginger Milk. :) The macarons come in paper gift box, or in a luxurious glass box if you are willing to pay extra. The glass box is really lovely, but since the macarons are already quite expensive by themselves, I settled for the cheaper option...

Apart from the milk tea macaron, which didn't have much discernible taste apart from sweetness, all macarons tasted just like what their names had suggested. In particular, the blue cheese macaron had such a strong taste of stinky cheese that Hellish was reluctant to take a second bite! But the filling in most of the macarons was so thin that it's not even visible (see golden standard of macaron filling here), which meant that the macarons didn't have the rich, creamy texture that I was looking for. The shells were not very crispy either, but since it's possible that they had softened on my way home given the humid weather, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. 

I appreciate very much the creativity behind Jouer's exciting flavours and the cute idea of having a 4-course macaron menu. HK needs more independent shops like this! But there's absolutely a need to adjust the macaron formula (or at the very least, enlarge the macaron a bit) if they are to charge ~$17 for a piece. The shop lady said they might be offering Japanese flavours soon, which is going to be another interesting experiment. Next time I am going to have the macarons right inside the beautiful store (they do offer this option), which will certainly help me feel better about my money spent. :P

Jouer (website)
G/F, 1 Sau Wa Fong, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Opening hours: 11:00am-7:30pm (Mon - Sun)
Macarons: $100 for 6 or $180 for 12 (in paper box), $160 for 6 or $280 for 12 (in glass box)

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Jean Paul Hévin Chocolate Afternoon Tea Set @ Cafe 103, The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong

I have never been keen on football. My high school used to teach us girls to play football in PE lessons (boys and girls had PE lessons separately in my school). I still remember how we tried to avoid the football as if we were playing dodgeball - we were obviously more interested in preventing our legs from bruising rather than scoring. There were only a few football lessons but the awkwardness was traumatizing enough for me not to like football. :0

Logically, I don't watch football games. World Cup is the only exception though. I used to be really, really ecstatic about World Cup! Rather than the games, what I truly enjoyed were the privileges during World Cup, i.e. staying up late, munching on midnight snacks, shouting out loud with Dad and Bro... the joy was endless. :) Of course, watching cute football celebrities added to the fun... though my friends generally disagreed with me that Ronaldinho was cute. :P 

Sadly, World Cup has become much less enjoyable these years. Now being a sleep-deprived, full-time employee, staying up late has become more a chore than something to feel excited about. The bottom line is, watching World Cup is no longer a free entertainment. THIS IS SO NOT COOL. :( 

I decided that celebrating World Cup over afternoon tea might be my painless way out. Cafe 103 (formerly The Chocolate Library) of The Ritz-Carlton HK has teamed up with Jean Paul Hévin to prove that these 2 polarized interests can actually be harmonized. Together they have created a chocolate afternoon tea set with a South American theme to celebrate 2014 World Cup Brazil! This is far more exciting than watching World Cup via Xiaomi Hezi and lamenting the poor stability of live streaming. 

Weather was brilliant on the day of our visit. As the restaurant was on 103/F, we enjoyed an expansive view of Victoria Harbour from the window. People say Hong Kong is dying, and I think it is. Ridiculous things that used to happen elsewhere now hit the headlines of our local newspapers every day. Whenever the thought of moving away from HK clouds my mind, it is always the beautiful harbour that reminds me there are still things I love about HK after all. 

The glorious tea treats arrived in a wooden cigar box evocative of South America. :) 

Savoury (clockwise from top): duck foie gras pâté mini puff with Cuba cocoa nibs; seafood and dill cream, Brazilian coffee bread sandwich; vanilla cocoa oil marinated smoked salmon, rye bread sandwich; truffle egg mayonnaise brown bread sandwich

Sweet (left to right, top to bottom): "Macae" strawberry pepper verrine, religieuse, crusty chocolate tart, orange flavour Madeleine, Piura chocolate macaroon, Brazilian chocolate bonbon

One more sweet item: coffee hot chocolate, a combination of the 2 best things from Brazil. It's as rich as melted chocolate!

This is a tea set that would leave you a great sense of satisfaction even if you have the most insatiable appetite for chocolates, because the chefs have used cocoa in making all the sweets and even half of the savouries! It would actually be more sensible to worry more about intoxication! ;)

Although every piece of sweet tasted flawlessly of fine chocolates, I managed to pick out my top 3 favourites: 

2nd runner-up - chocolate macaroon
Now with macaron shops blooming in HK, you may easily stumble on a better macaron, but I'm not sure if you can find a better chocolate macaron than this. The melt-in-your-mouth layer of chocolate ganache, which had a distinct note of berry-like fruitiness unique to premium dark chocolate, was beautiful. :9

1st runner-up - crusty chocolate tart
A chocolate twin of mille-feuille, this is going to be everyone's teatime sweetheart.

Winner - "Macae" strawberry pepper verrine
This was really, really good. It would in fact be somewhat insulting to use "good" to describe it because it's so much more than that!  First the pepper teases your palate, then fleshy strawberries thrill your taste buds... and Brazilian chocolate rounds off the tartness as the grand finale. Try this and enjoy the gustatory roller coaster ride!

The quality of the savouries was sufficient to make up for the small quantity. The truffle egg sandwich completely blew our minds - the truffle was soooo powerfully fragrant that I don't think they needed any specially trained pig to sniff it out in the forest (I would be happy to do that job, wahaha :P)! I didn't notice the presence of cocoa oil in salmon sandwich, perhaps because the rye bread tasted too strong. The combination of foie gras with cocoa nibs was more interesting; the earthy cocoa nibs gave nuances to the evil puff and enhanced the sweetness of foie gras. Delicioso! :9

We ordered Cafe 103's signature hot chocolate as beverage. We knew we were having too much chocolate but we were just too tempted to have a complete chocolate experience! We kinda regretted the choice, though, when we later learnt that a cup of coffee hot chocolate was already included in the tea set. :0 For a moment I worried if I could be the first person died of chocolate overdose, but then I thought maybe it wasn't so bad to die in that way anyhow. :P

Like any other branded afternoon tea sets, the tea set comes with coupons. Each coupon entitles you to a 10% discount in JPH boutiques. While you may not want any more chocolate after tasting the tea set, you can buy some for your family and friends to share your love for South America. :) 

Ambience: A-

Service: A 

Food: A- (A chocoholic's dream come true! :9)

Overall remarks: It's obvious that the South Americans are ruling the world with football AND chocolates this summer! If you don't have a favourite South American football team, join the bandwagon by picking your favourite South American chocolate from this tea set!

Cafe 103 (website)
103/F, The Ritz-Carlton, International Commerce Centre, 1 Austin Road West, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Afternoon tea: 3:30-6:00pm daily
Jean Paul Hévin Chocolate Afternoon Tea Set available from now to 31 July 2014
$318 for 1 person, $538 for 2 persons (Mon - Fri)
$338 for 1 person, $558 for 2 persons (Sat, Sun & PH)

Monday, 5 May 2014

"Brighten Up Your Day" Afternoon Tea Inspired by Cath Kidston and Penney Pang @ Feast (Food by EAST), EAST Hong Kong: Part II

Three days after having the Cath Kidston tea set, I visited Feast again - this time with Evil Girls - for the Cath Kidston weekend tea buffet. I am now qualified to call myself a Cath Kidston afternoon tea expert! ;P

To be honest I was not too excited about the buffet... those who have read my review on the Cath Kidston tea set should have no problem understanding my lack of enthusiasm. Besides, I always prefer tea set to tea buffet. In my opinion, the former represents the authentic afternoon tea experience, whereas the latter is simply what hotels invented to make easy money between lunch and dinner hours. I did look forward to meeting my dear Evil Girls after a long, hectic month though!

The buffet started with a surprise: a tea set was included in the price! The set was similar to what I had last time, except the scones and sandwiches were replaced by a tier of cookies, cream puffs and fruit tarts. While these were far from being memorable, I certainly liked them better than the oily scones and dry sandwiches. 

The buffet was predictably limited in terms of variety. They clearly had compromised quality as they tried to keep the price competitive. The most attractive item at the embarrassingly small salad bar was, guess what, lettuce! :0 Dry sandwiches that appeared in the weekday tea set could be found next to the salad bar. 

At the savoury station, there were a number of dull-looking pastries which I didn't bother to try. The adjacent hot food station offered wanton soup noodles and dim sum. I understand that it's very common for local restaurants to serve Cantonese food in tea buffet, but aren't noodles and dim sum a bit outlandish in a Cath Kidston themed buffet?  

Here's the "interactive(?) live crepe and waffle station", where you can order crepe with your choice of filling. Terrible ordered a crepe with various kinds of fruits, which sounded delicious but was a total disaster. The fact that she could not even finish the crepe said it all.

Ice cream was okay, but it's maddening that they rationed it in tiny cones! A range of toppings was available, which was pointless because I wasn't able to put more than 6 chocolate pearls onto the little scoop of ice cream... :(

Grilled ham and cheese panini turned out to be the best thing about the buffet... anything with melted cheese will never go wrong, after all. I won't recommend it to any health-conscious person though - there's so much butter in the bread that it's literally dripping with oil after grilling. :0  

Ambience: B

Service: B+ (We did not get any free gift this time because the gift was out of stock. Not a problem for me because I had already got the gifts when I tried the tea set. What displeased me was that I actually booked the buffet A LOT EARLIER than the tea set, only the buffet was scheduled after the tea set... instead of giving out gifts on a first-come, first-served basis, wouldn't doing it on a first-book, first-served basis be fairer??)

Food: C-- (Let's face it, the food isn't going to brighten up your day)

Overall remarks: What will you choose: spending ~$125 on bad food, as in the case of Cath Kidston tea set, or spending ~$220 to get a wider selection of bad food, as in the case of Cath Kidston buffet? 

Me? I'd rather spend £20 (~$260) on a Cath Kidston cake stand.

Feast (Food by EAST) (website)
1/F, EAST Hong Kong, 29 Taikoo Shing Road, Island East, Hong Kong
Cath Kidston tea buffet: 3:00-5:30pm (Sat, Sun and PHs), $195 per person
* Cath Kidston afternoon tea available from now to May 18 2014. 
** Tea set with Cath Kidston theme available on weekdays. Click here for the review.