Thursday, 10 January 2013

We ♥ Vegetables @ SEVVA

December. My favourite month of the year! With winter solstice, Christmas, New Year Eve and my b-day all lumped together in December, it is always the month of gatherings, dinners, and shopping. But I've got to admit that I have been in this love-hate relationship with December in recent years... the grand feasts, party-planning and last-minute shopping take a toll on my health, whether physically or psychologically. :( The December of 2012 was the most fruitful yet busiest month in my life. The result of overeating, stress (from work and hectic social life) and inadequate sleep is that my aging stomach has not been feeling well since mid-December. :(

But being a tea lover and a reckless Sagittarius means that I am not giving up afternoon tea, no way! I am going to eat in a healthier way though. That's why SEVVA came to my mind when I was planning for my first afternoon tea in 2013 - it's the only place that serves vegetarian afternoon tea set in HK. ;)

Aware of its no-reservation policy for afternoon tea, Hellish and I arrived at SEVVA before teatime. It was 2:44pm, and a waitress greeted us at the entrance. Then the most ridiculous thing happened. The waitress said that they would only allow customers to start queuing for afternoon tea at 2:45pm - ah, so that's why many ladies were waiting on the ground floor just now. She went on to tell us to go down by the lift and get back to the restaurant at 2:45pm. I really could not believe my ears. This is, as of today, the dumbest thing I have ever heard in my life! There was another girl who arrived at the same time as we did, and she was equally appalled by this stupid suggestion. I protested to the waitress that there was just a minute to go, and a minute could have easily passed by the end of our conversation. Still, the waitress rigidly insisted that we should all leave. She added that we would not be granted the first place in the queue even if we stayed. Oh come on, who cared about being the first?? The restaurant was so big that I didn't worry about not getting a table at all. The point was, it was plain foolish to go down 25 floors and immediately go up again!! 

I told the waitress that we were not going down. She repeated that we would not be given priority for queuing (obviously she didn't hear me...) and said nothing more. While I could totally understand the need of maintaining a strict control of the queuing time, it was absurd, if not rude, to tell the customers to spend a minute in the lift! Couldn't she say something more sensible like, "I'm sorry that there's still a minute before you can start queuing. Why don't you take a look at our sweets and cakes in the corner and start queuing at 2:45pm sharp?" After all, the beautiful patisserie corner in Marie Antoinette style can easily distract any female customer for a minute or two! And it was indeed how I spent that stupid 1 minute.  

In the end, a group of ladies burst from the lift at almost 2:46pm. They were promptly escorted by the waitress to the queuing point. We joined the queue and were ranked 6th or 7th. We got seated immediately when the clock struck 3. I told you it wasn't necessary to be the first, didn't I?

Anyway... we got seated outdoor, as we preferred. The weather was a bit chilly, but it would be a shame not to enjoy winter sunshine on the spacious terrace. I loved their huge outdoor sofas which could accommodate at least 4 persons each. And we had 2 of these sofas to ourselves!

View of Central from the terrace

We were glad to see that the waiters who served us were polite and generally responsive. We just hoped our vegetarian tea set could have come a bit earlier because it was not easy to stay patient in the cold wind. :P

Top tier (clockwise from top): SEVVA vegetable spring roll, golden crumpet with chive cream cheese & cucumber, mini burger with ratatouille 

Middle tier (clockwise from top): mini asparagus roll; deluxe vegetarian club sandwich; SEVVA poori - Indian nachos... our way; tri-coloured tomatoes, avocado, chopped egg white on toasted soylin bread, wild mushroom ragoû on crispy rice cracker 

View of middle tier from another side

Bottom tier (clockwise from top): double chocolate-dipped strawberry, the original caramel crunch cake, SEVVA pineapple carrot cake, cigar wafer cookies, chocolate fudge cake with marmalade, mini Mont Blanc 

If you are biased against vegetarian food like most of my guy friends and have the impression that it is bland, boring and not filling, SEVVA's vegetarian tea set will make you painfully ashamed of your ignorance. ;) This gorgeous tea set looks anything but boring right? The carrot cake (just because I don't like carrot cake) and soggy asparagus roll aside, the tea set was nicely executed. The pastries on the bottom tier are actually the same as those in the non-vegetarian signature tea set. Whether it was SEVVA's famous feather-light crunch cake , the dense orange-scented chocolate cake, or the chocolate-dipped strawberry that could never go wrong... everything was pure bliss. 

The top 2 tiers were the stage for vegetarian savouries. Since veggies have less intense flavours than meat in general, vegetarian chefs tend to use lots of cheese, spices, and herbs to enhance the flavours of their dishes. The result is that, vegetarian dishes are flavourful, sometimes even more so their meaty counterparts. Try their crumpet with oh-so-yummy chive cream cheese, or crispy rice cracker with piquant stewed mushrooms, and you will see what I mean. :) Of course, I enjoyed the toast with tomatoes and avocado cos I love gooey fatty avocado. Who needs meat when veggies taste so good?? If I could have great vegetarian food like these every day, I wouldn't mind being a convert... for a week. :P

So far, so good. This is one of HK's best afternoon tea set - if we do not take its price into account. What is your guess for the price tag? $450? Not even close. $500? Nah. The answer is: a whooping $580, plus 10% service charge!! :0 I was a bit mad that at this hefty price, we were only entitled to choices of everyday tea and coffee... I would love to try the organic teas from Penelope Sach, but they cost extra. :( I really didn't want to dole out more money from my bleeding wallet, so I reluctantly settled for an Earl Grey...  

Ambience: A- (Love the terrace! Despite having opened for several years, SEVVA's niche as one of the hippest place in town remains unchallenged.) 

Service: C- (To be fair, the waiting staff weren't bad as a whole, but the waitress at the entrance was just hopeless. First impression is important!!)

Food: B (Wonderful food that deserves an A-. But value for money? NO!)

Overall remarks: Ok, now it seems that I am in another love-hate relationship... SEVVA is a charming place for tea, but when I pay over $600 for a tea set I would certainly ask for A LOT MORE. At this price, I would expect all food items to come in pairs (or else show me some black truffles :P), gourmet tea instead of Twinings, and most importantly, reasonable service. SEVVA should really organize customer service training for the staff; if this is too expensive, just replace the waitress at the entrance with someone else! 

SEVVA (website)
25/F, Prince's Building, 10 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong
Afternoon tea: 2:30 - 6:00pm (Mon - Fri), 3:00-6:00pm (Sat)
* Signature Tea Set and vegetarian variation available at $580 for 2 persons

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Lazy Sunday Afternoon @ Teavers

Living in the West of NT, travelling to Eastern HK Island  has never been an uplifting idea to me. Although I am aware that there are a growing number of interesting restaurants in Soho East, I don't really bother to visit them whenever I think of the hours to be wasted on travelling. :( Two weeks ago, there's finally a sufficiently strong incentive for me to go to Sai Wan Ho - F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu" was showing in HK Film Archive! I decided that it would be a good chance to check out Teavers, a baby member to the dining scene of Soho East. 

Teavers is a small teahouse that has only about 8 tables. It's divided into 3 functional areas: the tea bar and kitchen, the seating area, and the shelves displaying tea products for sale. The soft lighting and wooden interior give the place a warm, calming ambience - you know, it's the kind of place where you would like to spend an afternoon with a good book or a Macbook. ;)

The waitress gently placed a large wooden rack on our table as she seated us. On the rack were test tubes containing dry leaves of different types of tea; we were encouraged to smell the samples before ordering our favourites. More choices of plain teas can be found in the tea menu. In particular, the "Signature Drinks" section offers a selection of flavoured teas which casual tea drinkers will likely find less intimidating. 

The food menu was trendily presented on iPad. Pretty cool indeed, but I couldn't really get the rationale behind because a piece of A4 paper would well accommodate the small number of food items...  :P

While waiting for our order to come, our attention was inescapably caught by the eye-catching siphon tea makers at the tea bar. Though Hellish had failed to convince me that siphon tea maker was in anyway superior to traditional brewing method (not sure whether it's because of my scientific skepticism or poor physics :P), it was truly mesmerizing to watch tea leaves and bubbles dance in the snow-globe-like gadget.  

Spellbound by the tea-brewing extravaganza, I almost failed to notice when the scones arrived. I took a bite only because I was not hungry at all. It appeared to be quite pleasant. It would have been even better (and more proper) if they served them with clotted cream and jam, instead of butter. 

One of Teavers' signature drinks - Ginger Phoenix Oolong. It's D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S! It had a good balance of sweetness and spiciness. It was so sweet that I was certain that they had added honey, but on second thought, it was possible that the sweetness simply came from the tea itself because Phoenix Oolong is known for its honey flavour. A wonderful winter drink! :)

The pot of Mount Honey Black I ordered was less likeable. I am no expert in Taiwanese black tea, but I didn't think the bitterness of this tea was normative by all standards. Either it was oversteeped, or excessive tea leaves were used for the brew. The tea was so strong that I developed a bit of headache after drinking 2 cups. This being said, I quite enjoyed the tea set because everything was nicely presented. I loved the teapot and teacup for their spontaneous, poetic beauty. The small cup of water - for palate-cleansing and preventing/alleviating caffeine overdose I guess - was a thoughtful touch. I was genuinely amazed by the superb quality of the complimentary cookies. The fragrant notes of green tea and osmanthus oolong, despite being very delicate, outshone the buttery flavour and easily stole the show. Seriously, Teavers should consider selling them in packs if they are not doing that already!

The people behind Teavers seem to be tea and art lovers. Apart from the artistic teaware and tea-brewing method, their aestheticism is reflected in Teavers' tea products. These elegant tea fragrance diffusers say it all.  :) My best pick is the Magic Mushroom at the far end, which you can have a better look here. ;) 

Teavery Tea Poles are Teavers' most featured products. Though the idea of putting tea leaves into a perforated metal foil tube - which doubles as a stirrer - is not new, it's probably the first time Chinese teas got packaged in this smart and convenient way! I'd like to have some in my office pantry - that is, uh, if my office has a pantry... :(

As gourmet tea is fast becoming a food trend in HK, Teavers is a promising teahouse with great potential to flourish. I will give their plain tea another chance when I go to HK Film Archive again in mid-Jan. Geez, I am already missing their tea-scented cookies! :9 

Teavers (website)
Shop GB22, Site B, Soho East, Lei King Wan, Hong Kong
Opening hours: 10:00am-7:00pm (Tue - Fri), 10:00am-9:00pm (Sat - Sun)