Saturday 19 September 2015

Afternoon Tea @ Jamie's Italian Causeway Bay

Hi my dear readers! It's been such a long time since my last post that my fingers now feel awkward on the keyboard! Something BIG has happened and kept me away from this blog over the past few months: I AM PREGNANT!! :D 

During the first trimester I felt so tired ever day that I was unable to stay conscious past 10:00pm, which meant that I wasn't able to do anything productive after work... then in second trimester, when my energy level returned to normal, I was busy reading books about pregnancy and meeting friends to share the good news. Now already in the third trimester, it's time to do some serious baby product research and shopping to prepare for my baby's arrival. In short, no time for blogging!!

Notwithstanding the above, today I feel obliged to write a review on the afternoon tea set newly launched by Jamie's Italian CWB, which I have just tried. Remember our "慈母" (caring mother) cares about us so much that "she" sent us heartwarming text messages to warn us against phone scams? Now that I am going to be a 慈母 myself too, I am driven by my mother instinct to protect my readers from being cheated as well! 

Jamie's Italian needs no introduction. It was quite a sensation when its first HK branch opened in CWB last year - restaurant fully booked online a month ahead, long queues around lunch and dinner time, people showing off their meals on FB... typical story in HK. Since food doesn't taste better when you try it sooner, I saw no point in joining the crowd and wasting even a small fraction of my life on queuing. As Hongkongers are novelty-seeking, usually queues disappear after a year... and that's normally the time I would try those big name restaurants. 

About 2 weeks ago, Hellish and I took Friday off and were planning what to do. We reviewed our FB feeds for inspiration. We eventually decided to visit the newly opened Line Friends Store at Hysan Place, as well as Jamie's Italian for afternoon tea. It's weekday and another branch of Jamie's has already opened in TST, so we thought it would be a good time to check out the CWB branch!

As expected, business at Jamie's was slow on Friday afternoon. There were only less than 10 parties in the spacious restaurant. Shortly after he had taken our order, the waiter placed 4 cans of peeled tomatoes on our table. They were not supposed to be consumed; they were intended to support the afternoon tea planks that we were eagerly waiting for! A really fun and playful touch.

Only regular tea and coffee were included in the tea set so Hellish and I ordered one each. The tea experience went sharply downhill when a pot of Lipton tea was brought to me. LIPTON! For a moment I got disoriented and wondered if I was in a cha chaan teng! I have been served Twinings for afternoon tea before but I don't think I have ever been given Lipton! :0 As if it was not shocking enough, I was appalled to find out that the teapot was only half-filled, which meant that almost half of the tea bag was above water surface. Worst of all, the water turned out to be merely lukewarm (just slightly higher than body temperature) as I poured it into my cup!!! Could the pot of tea be previously been consumed by someone else?? Urgh!!

I asked the waiter to refill the pot with hot water. He did, and the water was indeed warmer, but still it was far from being hot. I decided to give up and removed the tea bag from the pot. I'd rather drink a cup of warm water than a cup of not-so-hot tea. Anyway it's just Lipton. I've got nothing to lose... 

Our tea set arrived 40 minutes after we had placed the order, which I considered hardly justifiable because many of the items (e.g. the cheese, ham, pickles) required minimal cooking time. Perhaps some of the desserts were freshly baked, but they could certainly have made advance preparation to speed things up right? 

Savoury plank: Levoni cured meat and  "a wonderful selection of pickles and olives"

Savoury plank continued (from left) : Italian nachos, mozzarella cheese (not mentioned in the menu), Pecorino and chilli jam  

Dessert plank (clockwise from top left): Strawberries & cream, Tuscan Eat & Mess, Gennaro's tiramisu, "our famous epic brownie"

The Italian Nachos were supposed to be the only hot items on the savoury plank, but they were cold ... :0 I couldn't help feeling sarcastic when I saw that their Chinese name was "香脆意大利芝士雲吞" because they were anything but 脆 (crispy). With the smoky cheesy filling and fiery tomato sauce, they could have tasted great had they been piping hot. Shame. The plain mozzarella balls were tasteless. Well that's what mozzarella should be like; the question is why they served it without anything? On the other hand, the pickles were so acidic that my oesophagus would have been corroded if I finished them all. Overall, everything on the savoury plank was so lifeless that I wondered if they had made it with lunch leftovers. :( 

Thankfully there's the dessert plank which saved the tea experience from being a complete catastrophe. At least I really enjoyed their rich and chocolatey brownie. It was crunchy on the outside and slightly melty on the inside, just like molten chocolate cake! They didn't call it their famous epic brownie for no reason. The tiramisu was not bad either. It was the authentic kind of tiramisu: spongy, moist, and tasted strongly of coffee liqueur instead of cream. The Tuscan Eat & Mess as well as strawberries & cream were passable. 

Ambience: B+ (I love industrial decor, but it's not really the right ambience for afternoon tea I am afraid)

Service: C-

Food: C 

Overall remarks: This tea set will not be approved by Jamie Oliver himself if he has the chance to taste it.  I have dined at Jamie's Italian in Oxford before, and I liked every dish I tried back then... which makes me doubt that they have done anything about quality control when they open overseas branches. Sure Hongkongers worship celebrity chefs and are crazy about afternoon tea, but it's plain wrong to capitalize on that and serve an assortment of uninspiring food in the name of afternoon tea set! I will not be back, not even for lunch or dinner. 

Jamie's Italian Causeway Bay (website)
2/F, Soundwill Plaza II - Midtown, 1 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
* Afternoon tea: 3:00-6:00pm daily, $158 (+ 10% service charge) per person 

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!