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


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



INFO
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. :) 



THE VERDICT 
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!



INFO
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  



THE VERDICT 
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.



INFO
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.


Thursday, 1 May 2014

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


I suspect that something is very wrong about the feng shui of my home. Not that I believe in feng shui - I just can't think of a better reason to explain why both Hellish and I have been working non-stop since Year of the Horse. There were countless evenings in which we sat on the couch in a vegetative state and drifted off to sleep before we had even showered. :( I hope the rest of the year isn't going to be like this... 




We were thankful that things had got slightly better before Easter, even though we knew perfectly that such improvement would not last. Before being swallowed by the next wave of projects and cases, we took early leave one afternoon and travelled all the way to Taikoo to try the Cath Kidston tea set! 




To say the Cath Kidston afternoon tea is the hottest tea set in town is hardly an overstatement. We were shocked to find a full house at 4 o'clock on a weekday - a proof of Cath Kidston's solid fan base in HK! 



 

Indisputably, the biggest draw of the tea set is the cheerful Cath Kidston tea stand! The feminine rose motif is such a lovely match to the elegant image of traditional afternoon tea. I believe that merely taking pictures with the tea set is enough to make most girls happy! 




Top tier: fruit scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam 




Middle tier (clockwise from top): Cath Kidston inspired pastries by Penney Pang - Westbourne Rose Earl Grey cupcake, Field Rose cream-filled macaroon, Safari orange blossom chocolate bonbon




Bottom tier (clockwise from top): tea-smoked salmon, horseradish and cucumber sandwich; duck egg mayonnaise and watercress sandwich; asparagus wrapped in Gorgonzola and cured English ham; Quiche Lorraine, English honey-glazed ham and mustard sandwich; sun-blushed tomato palmier




After tasting the food, I would like to amend what I said above as follows: taking picture of the tea set without eating the food will actually make you happier, because the food quality is bound to disappoint. The scone was overly floury, and you can tell how oily it was when it's shinier than the face of a teenage boy. It was heavy despite its small size, especially when eaten with the clumpy clotted cream. :0 Pastries designed by local cake designer Penney Pang looked really cute but that's pretty much it. The chocolate bon bon was way too sweet and cloying, and instead of tasting Earl Grey in the cupcake as promised, I could only taste banana(!?). The rose-perfumed macaroon was the only thing that I would like to have more. Apparently, taste is not a cake designer's strength or priority. The savouries did not fare any better - sandwiches were dry, English cured ham was saltier than Jinhua ham... I'll stop here as I don't want to sound too critical. After all, it is ridiculous to demand for quality when you are paying only ~$125 (service charge included) per head for a tea set!




Tea was similarly below standard. Instead of brewing the tea for you, they only give you a tea bag plus a pot of water, and you are supposed to do the rest by yourself. The Earl Grey I had was weak and I could barely find a trace of bergamot in it. For a more intense flavour, you have the option of asking for an extra tea bag (just like what Ms. Susie Wong did), or using less water (the Cath Kidston cup is much bigger than regular tea cup) for brewing if you don't want to pay more. ;)




Any Cath Kidston fan who's not happy with the food will find consolation in the free gifts: a small tube of ultra-fragrant rose hand cream and a discount coupon to be used in Cath Kidston CWB store per order of tea set. The bad news it that the gifts are currently OUT OF STOCK, because the hotel did not expect the afternoon tea to be such a sensation and therefore greatly underestimated the number of gifts they needed. :0



THE VERDICT 
Ambience: B (Tables were rather close to one another, probably because the restaurant wanted to squeeze in more customers)

Service: A- (Staff were courteous and helpful even though they were obviously very busy. I didn't expect to make my own tea in a hotel restaurant though)

Food: C-

Overall remarks: You have to admit that paying $125 and getting a full stomach + hand cream + coupon is quite a good deal. But now that the free gifts are no longer available, I don't think it's worth the trouble to visit remote Taikoo only to get stuffed by underwhelming food...



INFO
Feast (Food by EAST) (website)
1/F, EAST Hong Kong, 29 Taikoo Shing Road, Island East, Hong Kong
Cath Kidston tea set: 3:00-5:00pm (Mon-Fri), $228 per 2 persons (additional person $150)
* Cath Kidston afternoon tea available from now to May 18 2014. 
** Tea buffet with Cath Kidston theme available on weekends. Click here for its review! :)


Thursday, 13 February 2014

Busy Days...


The last few working days in Year of the Snake had been a nightmare. There was so much to do that I had, for a moment, secretly wished that the Apocalypse would come and put an end to everything. The 4-day CNY holiday was no consolation to my exhausted mind and body - I was only made busier by all the gatherings and meals. Now on the 14th day of CNY, it's pretty obvious that bad luck is going to stick with me this year. Just a glance at my to-do list is enough to make me SCREEEEEEEAM!

This blog will probably be reported to Blogger for disturbingly depressing content if I go on like this... fortunately, my cupboard is always fully stocked with powerful antidotes to depressed mood: tea!

The newest addition to my first aid kit is this Tea Almanac from teakha. In the neat bamboo box there are 15 different kinds of tea, one for each day of CNY. The teas come in linen pouches which can be reused as coasters. Isn't that lovely? ;)






I love sipping tea when I feel overwhelmed. To me, a nice cuppa works like an anchor; it grounds my restless soul in the present moment. It clears my mind - even if briefly - so there is no more rumination about yesterday or worry about tomorrow. The only thing on my mind is the very cup of tea that I am drinking. It's a peaceful, almost zen-like state. That's why I always feel better after a tea break. :) 

Now writing the abstract for an upcoming presentation... I gotta make myself a large pot of tea as I can be smashing my keyboard any minute. See you, I hope it won't be too long before my next update.