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Archive for June, 2010

Quoting “Paris Patisseries: History, Shops, Recipes“, “the Mont Blanc was invented by owner Austrian confectioner, Antoine Rumplemeyer. He founded Angelina in 1903 and the recipe has not changed to this day.” After reading that, it’d be a crime for me (a hardcore chestnut lover) to not hunt down the famous salon de thé (tearoom) while in Paris!

Founded in 1903, Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn and Marcel Proust used to take their high tea here. Today, it’s a melting pot of locals, celebrities and of course, tourists!

The shop is easy to find if you do your research well. It’s walkable from the Louvre museum, opposite the Tuileries Garden, hidden beneath the arcades of Rue de Rivoli and within sight of the Eiffel Tower.

There were many other elegant pastries on display but I ignored them all cuz I already spotted what I came for: rows and rows of crème de marrons (sweet chestnut cream) confections waiting to be eaten.

A mound of meringue, whipped cream and chantilly filling, topped with a pile of vanilla-flavoured threadlike chestnut cream—this is the real deal! So incredibly decadent and light that every mouthful feels like a dream.

Besides the Mont Blanc, Angelina’s Chocolat Africain (African Hot Chocolate) is also legendary. I didn’t try it though, cuz I’ve never been interested in it. Next time, perhaps. For now, I’m back to dreaming about that amazing Mont Blanc~

 

Angelina
226 rue de Rivoli

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When my sis first told me about the recent craze over bubble tea on our local shores, I scoffed at the idea of yet another food fad that Singaporeans are so fond of. “I don’t like bubble tea” was what I proclaimed to her. But weirdly enough, I found myself doing a taste test at not just one, but two bubble tea stores recently. And was surprisingly pleased to find that they are not as horrible as I thought they would be!

First up, KOI Cafe—the hottest bubble tea store in town now. It’s a popular chain store from Taiwan and perhaps, the Taiwanese’s version of Starbucks with more than 300 outlets in the country.

And because it’s so popular that there are always long queues, KOI uses a numbering system that works very well. You order, pay, get a number and wait for your drinks, easy-peasy.

My favourite is the Ai-Yu (愛玉) Iced Tea ($3.50), which wins lots of brownie points from me for being so refreshing, with a very light and palatable citrus aftertaste. Another good bet is KOI’s signature—Bubble Milk Green Tea ($2.40), which is very smooth and fragrant. Next time though, I’ll just ask for no pearls cuz the amount of black pearls is seriously too generous (almost half a cup)! I know there are many people who like those tapioca balls cuz they are chewy, starchy and nice to munch on—exactly the same reasons why I don’t like them.

Like KOI, Gong Cha also originates from Taiwan and each has their own loyal fans.

Gong Cha Ali Shan Milk Tea ($2.40) is their signature and what sets it apart from KOI’s version is that frothy milk is added on top after the tea is brewed instead of blending it together. The result is a creamier texture that lingers in the mouth which I’m not too crazy about.

Though no sugar is added, I find the Korean Citron Jelly with Konnyaku Jelly ($2.90) too sweet cuz of the candied peels.

The best out of the lot is Lemon Juice with White Pearl & Ai-Yu Jelly ($3.40)! Bitter, sweet and sour all in one sip. And I’m particularly partial towards Ai-Yu jelly =)

I like my tea to be bitter without any sugar masking the real fragrance of the tea leaves so what I like most about both stores is that I can choose the level of sweetness for my tea (0%, 30%, 50% and so on). These 2 stores look like they are here to stay, at least for awhile. Hopefully, they don’t expand at a “too fast, too furious” rate and neglect QC for the bottom line.

 

 

KOI Cafe
#01-15 Iluma At Bugis
6884 6817

Gong Cha
#B2-K3 City Square Mall
6509 3803

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Think of Paris, think of macarons! And of course, Ladurée and Pierre Hermé come to mind since they are Paris’s finest makers of these sugary treats.

My test taste started with Ladurée, the old guard on famous Champs-Elysées.

Ladurée has been a venerable institution since 1862, well-known for its beautiful macarons and cakes of different varieties. The flagship on Champs-Elysées is such an elegant and chi-chi patisserie-cum-tearoom, with crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and even the washroom has ornate gold details adorning the walls! A strict “no photography” policy applies here so I only managed to take a shot of the counter laden with trays of delicious looking pastries.

Due to time constraint, I didn’t have the luxury of dining in so I picked 8 macarons to go. For take-out, the macarons come packaged in pastel and gold boxes which are works of art themselves. I’m still keeping the box as a souvenir for myself!

There’s a basic range which is available all year round, and some seasonal flavours. I had bitter chocolate, pistachio, orange blossom, blackcurrant violet, caramel with salted butter, and lemon, all of which are permanently available. The other two, lilies of the valley and mimosa, are seasonal flavours created specially to celebrate spring’s return.

8 macarons gone in a flash. Frankly speaking, I wasn’t overwhelmed. My first thought was “huh, that’s all there is to macarons?” True, they were texturally flawless but it was obvious that the ratio of ganache to meringue was inconsistent. None of them made any impact—I felt that I was just eating overly sweet atas confections. A pretty disappointing experience, I’ll say.

With no less excitement though, I moved on to Pierre Hermé, Laduree’s esteemed, if much younger, rival. This is the man responsible for the “renaissance of macarons” where he made a splash in Paris by using Japanese aesthetic in creating a dizzying range of colours and flavors.

The take-out only outlet on rue Bonaparte reminds me of a jewelry shop—simple and classy. This is no ordinary shop but a rabbit hole! A real feast for the eyes even before one takes a bite of anything. Again, “no photography” policy applies here.

I wanted white truffle macaron very badly but was told that it’s a seasonal flavour. Aww, I could feel my heart sinking =(

Anyway, these are what I had: Magnifique (strawberry & wasabi), Mosaic (pistachio & griottine), Infiniment Caramel (salted butter caramel cream), Huile D’Olive & Vanilla (olive & vanilla), Mogador (chocolate & passionfruit), Eden (peach, apricot & saffron), and Chocolat (pure dark chocolate).

And WOW, I finally understand what’s with all the hype with Pierre Hermé’s macarons. They are really, really, REALLY heavenly! I particularly like how meaty they are, with thin crust and a very soft (not chewy) interior. And those seemingly odd pairing of flavours? Brilliant, I tell you, just brilliant~!

I didn’t leave with just macarons in my hands. Pierre Hermé is renowned for his Ispahan—a heavenly mélange of flavours: rose, raspberry, and lychee. It looked too pretty to be eaten but hey, someone has got to do the dirty job of destroying it =)

2 meringue-like biscuits (I don’t say macarons cuz this is more like a pastry in the shape of macarons) flavoured with rose water and tinted a gorgeous shade of pink, sandwiched between smooth delicate rose petal white buttercream filling, and layered onto the cream are fresh whole raspberries and sweet tropical lychee. Omg, this was incredible, so sooo lovely and ethereal. I want it again!

With this box came the end of my quest for macarons. As you can probably tell by now, the macarons from Ladurée are remarkably from Pierre Hermé in many ways: Ladureé is traditional in terms of macaron flavours, colours, packaging; Pierre Hermé is daring, modern and adventurous. Laduree’s macarons are less buttery, slightly smaller with less filling; Pierre Hermé’s flavours are deeper, more intense and explosive with a smoother texture.

In the world of macarons, there are Ladureé people and Pierre Hermé people. I’m with the latter, for sure, cuz the man is a total genius! The macarons do not come cheap but you’ve got to try both before you decide which camp you are in =)

 

Ladurée
75 Avenue des Champs-Elysées

Pierre Hermé
72 Rue Bonaparte

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If you’ve been away from home for more than 5 weeks, what food will you miss the most? Chicken rice, laksa, Hokkien mee? Not me. I’m the type of girl who can gladly do without local cuisine for months, even years (I think). For me, it’s Japanese food I’m hankering for.

The thing is, after Europe and 4 gorgeous bags later, I’m happily broke. So it’s bye to chi-chi restaurants, and hi to budget eating! Now, are budget eating and good quality mutually exclusive? Bimi Kaiho proves that that’s a falsehood. It’s a very small Japanese restaurant which has made a loyal group of followers happy for many years. When I was there, the place was packed and there were a few tables of Japanese customers—always a good sign to me.

I came with cha soba and unagi in mind so ordering was a no-brainer. No idea whether it’s a mind trick cuz I miss soba so much, but I find the cold cha soba here really good! Firm texture and wonderfully refreshing.

A generous slab of grilled unagi with sweet tamago made up the other half of my simple yet almost-perfect (if only the eel was more tender…) meal ($17++ with rice, otherwise it’s $22++ with soba instead).

There’s many different types of bentos on the menu and the friend made a right choice with the saba/salmon teriyaki bento ($16++) cuz the grilled mackerel was deliciously moist!

With such affordable pricing, I certainly didn’t expect world-class Japanese cuisine and Bimi Kaiho didn’t pretend to serve that either. But for simple, homecooked food with prices that won’t hurt the wallet, Bimi Kaiho will do nicely.

 

Bimi Kaiho
10 Anson Road
#02-28 International Plaza
6220 2262

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3.5 days in London = 7 precious meals I intended to maximise fully. After dedicating one meal to Gordon Ramsay, it was tough to sieve out just 6 out of so many eating places in London. Luckily, this is the type of homework I don’t mind doing =)

Remember I mentioned the kick-a** apple tart from Poilâne that not even 3-star Michelin G.R. can surpass? Here it is, in its glorified buttery form with huge chunks of apple. Any description won’t do it justice so I shan’t attempt to. Just know this: it’s small, it’s innocent-looking, and it’s tempting beyond anything else!

Poilâne has been around since 1932 and lest you think it’s from London, it’s not. It’s a traditional French bakery which originates from Paris. And even though I was going to be in Paris just a couple of days later, I couldn’t resist popping by the only outlet in London to admire (and gobble up) the beautiful loaves of bread and pastries.

You won’t find any baguette in the bakery as it refuses to bake baguette cuz that’s a modern invention that purists scoff at. That’s how traditional Poilâne is! And in case you are curious, France’s ancient bread is a large sourdough boule miche—the oversized round bread in the picture below.

46 Elizabeth Street, walkable from Victoria Station.

Another good bakery I’d recommend is PAUL, also a French bakery with a long history. Founded since 1889, it’s now a successful chain of bakeries with over 250 outlets across France and over 30 shops outside France.

We went to the takeaway kiosk on Tower Wharf (just outside Tower of London) which only has outdoor seating. It was awesome to sit in the cold, munching on our morning croissants, sipping our hot coffee, with a perfect view of Tower Bridge right before our eyes. Simple bliss.

Lunching at Borough Market is a must if you love fresh produce markets as much as I do. It’s bustling with stalls selling fruits and vegetables, ready-to-eat poultry and game, mountains of cakes and pastries, exotic (read: expensive) fare like ostrict eggs and huge gems of black truffles (below, bottom right), and so much more. Noisy, colourful atmosphere; enthusiastic stall owners; wondrous smells; full of life and celebration of food.

That’s what Borough Market is all about.

I didn’t take note of any particular stall cuz truth be told, everything looks and smells so good. My strategy was simply to wander around the huge market first, nibbling on the generous samples and making mental notes of which stalls to head back later so that we could buy more of whatever delicious food they are selling.

We had hot-off-the-grill Chorizo sandwiches, lovely seasonal salads, interesting quinoa patties, juicy berries, soft and tender canelés, brownies and cupcakes, crumbly falafels, pricey teeny-weeny shots of wheatgrass juice, marvelous mushroom pâté on fresh bread, and a pot of silky smooth creme caramel (below, bottom right) that reminds me of the fantastic caramel pudding from Ma Maison.

Don’t get too hyped up over the food and forget to take care of your belongings though. The market is extremely crowded and I can imagine pickpockets having a field day with unsuspecting tourists.

8 Southwark Street, just south of Southwark Cathedral.

For budget eating, The Stockpot is a great option. Established since 1958, it’s famous for being one of the best dining bargains in London. Generous portions, hearty dishes, small price tags. No wonder it’s a London institution. There’s nothing fancy about this place, tables are close together, and don’t expect pretty presentation on the plates. It’s just traditional home-cooked grub—unrefined, good and cheap. Our choices of typical British steak & kidney pie, cod in parsley cream, grilled pork chops, and warm apple crumble with vanilla ice cream left us feeling happy and satisfied.

38 Panton Street, near Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus.
 
I don’t know about you, but I love supermarkets, big or small. Last semester, I did a case study on Whole Foods Market (remember AB311 Strategic Management?) and was so fascinated by it that I listed it as a must-go destination on my itinerary. Photography is not allowed inside the market so I can’t show you how amazing it is—incredible range of food and personal care products, all natural, organic and minimally processed. There’s even a long buffet spread of prepared food which seduced me into buying some for lunch tomorrow. And on the top level, there’s a Market Food Hall with different stations selling burritos, pizza, sushi, crepes, gelato etc etc. Wow. Why can’t it open a branch in Singapore??

I didn’t go to Whole Foods just to gawk. I went with a hungry tummy wanting dinner. Or specifically, wanting Saf. Hardcore carnivores, you can just skip this part since I doubt this will interest you. Saf at Whole Foods (situated at one corner of the food hall) is a new offshoot of the award-winning Saf in Shoreditch, a vegan/raw food restaurant. Most dishes are cooked below 48°C to preserve optimum nutrition and flavour. It’s the kind of feel-good restaurant churning out feel-good feel that doesn’t compromise on taste. I had spiced tempeh with rye crackers, sea vegetable salad with lots of hijiki and wakame in a ginger-sesame dressing, and gyoza stuffed with roasted aubergine, wood ear mushroom and water chestnut. Adored them all!

The Barkers Building, 63-97 Kensington High Street.

The one and only disappointing eat in London goes to Patisserie Valerie, a chain of cafes that’s been around since 1926. A friend speaks highly of the eggs benedict here, but my eggs benedict royale came with 2 overcooked eggs with no chance of flowing yolk, sigh. The Croque Monsieur was so-so and the waitress’s recommendation of chocolate tiramisu was all cream and no substance. Enough said.

15 Bedford Street, near Covent Garden.

There you go, 6 different places to get breakfast, lunch and dinner. If I have to choose, I’d say the experience at Borough Market is my favourite. Having been to many farmer’s markets in Australia, New Zealand and different parts of Europe, I personally think that Borough Market is one of the best foodie’s heaven around!

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I had absolutely no intention of posting this when I was at a friend’s house for a baking session last weekend cuz this blog was the last thing on my mind. Honestly, I was skeptical of the results since there aren’t many recipes out there that guarantee an instant success. But amazingly, this one did! And so I’m sharing with you =)

Before that, I have a small confession to make: I don’t even like egg tarts much. They are not on my favourite list of food and I haven’t find any in Singapore that can rival the fabulous egg tarts from Tai Cheong Bakery in Hong Kong and Margaret’s Cafe or Lord Stow’s Bakery in Macau. Trust me, their egg tarts are. the. best. Ever! Really, I promise.

Note that the recipe is intended to make 12 and doesn’t specify the size of the tart molds. We used the standard size and the dough was enough to make 16 tarts. There was also quite a bit of liquid filling left so we poured it into chawanmushi cups, steamed them for about 15 mins, and voila, instant custard pudding!!

Can you resist hot-off-the-oven egg tarts? I can’t, especially when it’s a labour of our love, haha. All of us (and those who were lucky enough to be our guinea pigs) thought the tarts turned out really well—smooth texture, crumbly crust (this is not the Portuguese version with flaky crust), and the sweetness was just right.

If we have to change one thing, it’s to make the base of the crust thinner so there’s more custard in each tart. A matter of personal preference, I guess. Otherwise, this is as perfect as it gets for homemade egg tarts!

Alright, enough of my yakking. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

125 g confectioners’ sugar
375 g all-purpose flour
225 g butter
1 egg, beaten
1 dash vanilla extract

135 g white sugar
355 ml water
9 eggs, beaten
1 dash vanilla extract
235 ml canned evaporated milk (otherwise, whole milk is fine)

Directions:

In a medium bowl, mix together the confectioners’ sugar and flour. Mix in butter with a fork until it is in small crumbs. Stir in the egg and vanilla until the mixture forms a dough. The texture should be slightly moist. Add more butter if it is too dry, or more flour, if the dough seems greasy.

Shape dough into 1 1/2 inch balls, and press the balls into tart molds so that it covers the bottom, and goes up higher than the sides.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C).

Combine the white sugar and water in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil. Cook until the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Strain the eggs through a sieve, and whisk into the sugar mixture. Stir in the evaporated milk and vanilla. Strain the filling through a sieve, and fill the tart shells.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown, and the filling is puffed up a little bit.

The last and most important step: enjoy the tarts!

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This being my first trip to London, I admit I was a typical tourist who went to all the sights London is famous for. So brace yourself, this is gonna sound like one of those “what to see when you are in London” kind of write-up. I promise to make it as short and painless as possible. Hopefully, this will be a useful starting point for those planning a visit to London!

From top left, clockwise: Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4 (fun photo-op!); charming Big Ben; Southwark Cathedral; and St Paul’s Cathedral (not as impressive as I thought it will be).

Wanna see nearly every tourist in London gathered in one place at the same time? Then Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace is an obligatory stop. The ceremony starts at 11.30am so if you are a shortie like me, be early to stake out the high ground on Victoria Monument for the best overall view!

Thanks to Rick Steves’ guidebook, we arrived early at the Wellington Barracks for a close-up peek at the guards’ inspection before the actual ceremony at Buck House.

From top left, clockwise: the Thames and London Eye—no longer the world’s biggest observation wheel thanks to our Singapore Flyer; Houses of Parliament; Westminster Abbey, one of the greatest churches in Christendom; and a statue of Boadice—queen of the Iceni who revolted against the Romans.

From top left, clockwise: a full-size replica of Abraham Lincoln (the acclaimed “Standing Lincoln”); a demostration for peace in afghanistan on Parliament Square; the most famous front door in the world—#10 Downing Street, residence of Britain’s Prime Minister.

Along the historic Whitehall Boulevard are the Cenotaph, the Old Admiralty, the Banqueting House where King Charles I was executed, and the still-as-statues Horse Guards.

From left to right: Trafalgar Square with Nelson’s Column as its focal point; St. Martin in the Fields; and Piccadilly CircusLondon’s most touristy square. Don’t forget shopping at nearby Regent Street!

 

Tower of London is a really cool place to explore. It used to be a castle, a fortress, a prison, and a place for torture and execution. The grounds are like a huge medieval playground! Be sure to check out the Crown Jewels which are magnificant and glitter so much that they hurt my eyes, lol.

From top left, clockwise: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre; iconic Tower Bridge (NOT London Bridge!); Millennium Bridge (featured in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince); and the fantastic Borough Market (more on the yummy stuff in my next post).

Kensington Gardens is a lovely park with formal avenues of trees and ornamental flower beds. I really envy Londoners for having such greenery in their city. And this is no doubt the perfect setting for Kensington Palace—former residence of Princess Diana.

Nothing says spring like rows of colourful blooming tulips!

Harrods is an institution in its own right. It’s unlike any other department store I’ve seen—imagine over-the-top glitz and super-abundance of the Egyptian Hall and the like. In a quiet corner, there’s a memorial to Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed, son of Mohamed al Fayed (ex-owner of Harrods). Even though he has sold the mall to Qatar Holding (news broke out the very next day we went!), I’m pretty sure the memorial won’t be removed.

I’ve no idea what’s the link between Harrods and bears but these life-sized bears are so adorable!

We got out of the city on our last day in London and took a day tour to Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world and The Queen’s favourite weekend home. She was indeed inside the castle (somewhere) when we visited! Cheap thrill, haha.

What’s fascinating is this cute soldier standing guard by his little guard house. Not him, per se. I mean, there’s no clock nearby so I wonder how does he know when to start marching?

A detour to Bath next. The town itself is quaint but the Roman Baths is rather underwhelming even though it is the best preserved Roman religious spa. Then we saw these 2 hilarious ladies pretending that they are from the ancient times. Their hairstyles are considered fashionable in the old days but don’t you think they look like the beehive and Medusa??

The most famous prehistoric monument in Britain, Stonehenge marks the end of my 4 days in London. People around the world consider it a sacred site and they associate the ceremonial place with the super natural world. I don’t know how true this is but looking at the mysterious ruins, it’s hard not to wonder about who built this compelling ring of rock, how, and above all, why?

Note: Walk around to the back and you will see gorgeous fields of canola flowers!

London became the benchmark to beat for the rest of my trip and subsequent cities I went were found wanting in one way or another. I love the city, gloomy weather and all. The sights are interesting, people are friendly and I especially like the London Underground. You heard me right, I actually like the Tube—notorious for being dirty and the playground of pickpockets. True, it’s not the cleanest in the world and some lines are closed on weekends, but I really like its efficiency. Perhaps cuz I only use the Tube to travel around the central area, I find that the frequency of trains is very high and when I missed a train, I didn’t go “oh crap, there goes the train!!”—like I do so often in Singapore.

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