Weekends are made of these – Artisan Boulangerie Co.

Who doesn’t love it when the weekend approaches? I bet that most people, by the time Thursday comes by, are already anticipating the end of the work week, that’s why there is always that oft-used “TGIF” and somehow, the mood just takes on a more relaxed tone even on Friday mornings.

These are also the times when I have the luxury of spending moments at cafes, enjoying the food and coffee without having to think of needing to return to the office post-lunch. The amount of time spent there could be the same but the feeling is just different.

Artisan Boulangerie Co., or ABC for short, is one such place I like to go to. I have posted a couple of entries on it before, but this is a short summary of the things I like from them that I found from the photo album of my phone, which I have not downloaded into some storage device but are taking up precious memory space.

Just recently, I went to ABC again, which I’m happy to (despite that a meal there is typically a little pricier as compared to the other cafes like Starbucks or Coffee Bean) especially now that I have easier access to one of their outlets than before. So this time, I had wanted to order my favourite item from their breakfast menu but was told that they ran out of it, so I decided to get a sandwich instead, which you can’t go too wrong with. Not with them anyway, and especially if it’s something that I have tried before – the roast chicken baguette. At S$11.30 (pre-GST), it isn’t the cheapest sandwich around but it’s all for good measure – just check out how generous they are with it.The baguette is easier the length of a fork and it’s of pretty decent quality, though extremely hard. I wouldn’t recommend this for people who don’t like the bite and chewiness in their breads, because even cutting into it takes a bit of effort after sometime (when the bread has cooled) that I felt as though I was working my arms just eating this thing!
The chicken filling was literally spilling out of the sandwich, and it has a nice peppery taste for some spiciness. How I usually eat my sandwiches is by deconstruction – meaning, I literally take the entire sandwich apart, eating the bread separate from the filling. I would slice/cut up the bread into bite-size chunks, the same with the filling, and eat them together like mini open-faced sandwiches. I feel that it’s easier this way and less messy when eating, though the plate becomes messy because as I cut through the bread, types like croissant or baguette crumble and flake all over the place.

On a past visit, I had tried some other sandwiches. One that I had always wanted to try and did, was the Goat Cheese & Capsicum on focaccia. I can’t remember if I had posted about this before, but I love goat cheese and this was definitely one of those items I had wanted to try. I thought somehow the cheese reminded me of brie, and again it was so generous that I had to spread the cheese onto the bread so I wouldn’t recommend this for people who feel iffy about the taste of goat dairy, or for that matter, anyone who doesn’t fancy strong-tasting cheese.Yummy… this on the whole was good, but again strong-tasting, because of the goat cheese and the rockets. But goes perfectly with a cup of their Long Black.
Still another time, I decided to order something off the menu that wasn’t in the display case – turkey, avocado and brie. Although this was not bad in itself, the bread felt a little too soft for my liking. It’s toasted to a certain extent but it I don’t know if it’s because it’s white, it is too soft without the crunch and chewiness that I like to have for breads. If I recalled correctly, and from the picture it is turkey ham used in the sandwich instead of turkey meat, so it isn’t preferred. I probably wouldn’t order this again given a choice; would try something else or order something that I’ve tried and tested to be ok!
Tried the Chicken Caesar salad too and on the whole it’s pretty great, portion size was ok though not excessive but they supplement it with a serving of bread that you could indulge in with (semi-salted) butter or jam that’s freely available from their condiments counter. The salad isn’t dressing-rich, which is great and chicken portions are pretty sufficient. Only downside for me is the use of Parmesan cheese which is not my favourite type of cheese. But I think this is a typical ingredient of Caesar salads, so I could either ask for its omission in future or just make do with it. But butter croutons – amazing!
Of course, this brings me to my favourite item from their menu, which is from their brunch items – Homemade / Artisan Almond Granola, which is a mixture of organic rolled oats, toasted almonds, sesame & sunflower seeds, served with plain yogurt and freshly-cut fruits. At $12 each, this is pretty pricey but I feel worth every single dime (ok maybe not) because the fruits used are really fresh and of good quality and I just cannot resist this combination of fruits, granola and yogurt!Their other brunch items are also good, though the only other item I’ve tried is the Avocado Egg Open Face, which aside from bacon that I don’t take, everything else was just darn great!

Flock Café (relocated)

Since I moved, I thought it would be a good idea to start checking out the TB stretch of hipster cafes, which I had always wanted to do so ever since the first of those cafes started sprouting up there. It was always a tad out of the way though, and at some point I had started to deride TB as over-hyped, because to be really honest, some of these cafes (and many others around the island), aren’t up to scratch at all – they are just carbon copies of one another, which is ironic, because most pride themselves to be different in some way, not conforming to the usual cookie-cutter chain cafes like SB or CBTL. The funny thing is, with these cafes all adopting the industrial-chic look or whatever you want to call it, putting together non-matching pieces of furniture in a haphazard manner, they have become a cookie-cutter sort of template. But there are some that have withstood the test of time, and fickle consumer tastes, to last for years and are still standing today. Some of them have probably evolved into highly-commercialised entities that have lost their ‘unique’ lustre, whereas others have stuck to their original concept with perhaps a loyal fan-base.

Cafes in the TB stretch have also come and go, with some surviving the harsh and overpopulated cafe scene in Singapore. The Dispensary, a cafe along the main Tiong Bahru Road, has closed before I even had a chance to step beyond its doors. I was luckier with this other cafe, Flock, located along Moh Guan Terrace. I met my cousin one weekend and brought her there, having walked past it one day when I was exploring the area and made a mental note to return.

It was fairly crowded when we visited on Saturday afternoon (that was in January), but we were fortunate to get a table for the 2 of us on the inside, sort of on the ‘mezzanine’ deck, or the area beyond the counter. It’s a very small cafe with a narrow layout, but it could probably accommodate about 20-odd patrons inside. Maybe. Someone found us the table, and I’m not sure if he’s the owner since he didn’t seem like he was part of the crew or wearing what the other crew members wore.

So for brunch, we each ordered a coffee.We also picked the scrambled eggs with sourdough bread to share, priced at S$8 (I think). The egg was quite smooth and runny, fragrant, and also comes in quite an ok portion for us. I would have liked it more if it were egg whites, but then regular scrambled eggs for sharing is fine, otherwise all of it for me might have been too ‘eggy’. I really love the sourdough bread, which goes very well with the egg and butter! I think I could have just ordered this with a coffee and be a very happy camper. 2 large slices of bread were served in this dish.
The other item we got to share was the French Toast, which I thought my cousin would enjoy, since it seems like most people like French Toast? I don’t know, I am not a very big fan of it because it’s always heavily-drenched in syrup that makes the bread too moist and soft, which I DO NOT LIKE. I prefer my breads crunchy to a certain extent, rather it be hard than soft. The only French Toast that I liked were the ones that my mum used to make when I was young and there was leftover bread about to expire. Those were what we called Bombay Toast, or what the Home Economic textbooks called it, bread dipped in a mixture of egg and sugar, and then fried.

Flock’s version of the French Toast was similarly drenched in syrup, and served with a portion of curious-looking bacon that my cousin didn’t dare to eat. Somehow it looks like it’s overcooked or something. Anyway, we didn’t touch it at all because I don’t take bacon. This was also served with banana and some strawberries (maybe one, cut into small pieces), which I would definitely have liked more of. Overall, we both preferred the sourdough with scrambled eggs, which is a simpler (and cheaper) brunch option. The French Toast, if I recalled correctly, was S$15. But maybe French Toast lovers would still like it? Sometime after that, I thought I read somewhere that they were closing the TB outlet, or that they had ‘shifted’ to Ghim Moh (where their second outlet is). I haven’t really walked past the Moh Guan Terrace outlet since that visit, so I can’t confirm if it’s true that they have left the TB area. Sigh. I had hoped that they would still be around because I thought it was a pretty decent cafe that I wouldn’t mind revisiting to try other stuff, if not the sourdough again!

cafés… western-styled, local-styled 

Generally, businesses in Hong Kong seem to enjoy a slightly longer lifespan as compared to Singapore. Or maybe it just boils down to them having a better head for business? Cafes and F&B establishments here open and close fairly quickly, but somehow I noticed that in Hong Kong, cafes seem to be enjoying business brisk enough to open more outlets. Perhaps these are only the rare ones that we see, and that there could be much more that are closing which we are not aware of. Anyhow, it was only on this trip when I realised that the Cupping Room, a cafe that I had visited in the Sheung Wan area a couple of times before, had opened new outlets; there is one that is conveniently located along Wellington Street near to the mid-level escalators, and another which is nearer to the Wan Chai area.

I popped into the double-leveled Central outlet one morning for a cuppa while my friend was still sleeping. It was a nice, cool morning, and what’s a cup of Joe without something sweet to balance out the acidity that caffeine brings? So I ordered a banana bread, something I had always wanted to try, instead of going for their breakfast mains, though I was really tempted. The banana bread, more like a loaf cake, wasn’t too bad but again most of them taste generally the same. However, I did enjoy the sojourn, sitting there slowly sipping coffee and taking bites of the bread, while catching up on some reading.

When that was done, I made use of the connecting overhead walkways to IFC Mall, to do a spot of sale shopping at Zara, while waiting for my friend to contact me.

We finally met up at Lan Fong Yuen, which I had read about online and wanted to try their milk tea/coffee and bread. It’s really a non-descript hole-in-the-wall shop that was so cramped on seating that you are literally sitting elbow-to-elbow with other patrons, while trying to keep your butt on the mini stool. I can’t imagine how it must feel like in the summer heat, squeezed in that little space amidst so many patrons. So anyway, we decided to order the 鸳鸯, as my friend didn’t really enjoy the one we had at Tsui Wah, though I felt it was fairly OK, but then again I seldom drink that so I don’t know how it’s supposed to taste like.

For food, we opted for a stir-fried instant noodles with chicken and spring onion oil, as well as the toasted bun with condensed milk.
I think the yuan-yang here was a little disappointing for me because it felt just like a milk tea, without a single hint of coffee. Is that how it’s supposed to taste like, or had the coffee I took at the Cupping Room in the morning seasoned my tongue to the extent that I couldn’t detect the trace of coffee in this mix? The noodles were a winner for me. Despite that it’s a little oily, the fragrance from the spring onion oil made them so tasty! I should learn how to make noodles like that, though it isn’t so healthy to be eating instant mee, even if we are not dumping in that sinful pack of MSG-laden powder. Let’s take a closer look at the plate of heavenly goodness.  Then came the fall. The condensed milk bun… was just sad. For me. I admit that I am not a big fan of white breads, in most forms anyway, but the Tsui Wah bun, and another that I had tried at an open-air local coffee joint somewhere in the alleys of SOHO, were pretty decent and enjoyable. Somehow, this was a complete letdown. It’s like the bun wasn’t well-toasted enough, even if they had more condensed milk smeared on it than Tsui Wah.
Or maybe it could just be that a different type of bun or bread was used? So my conclusion was that, take online reviews with a pinch of salt, even if there are many positive reviews, because we all have different tastes, and also because sometimes reviewers just have not tried enough places to know which are the really good ones.As it was winter solstice, we proceeded to Cong Sau at Causeway Bay to have our 汤圆!  We also ordered the almond paste (or I think that’s what the other bowl was since it’s white haha), and I really like the tang yuan, because of its size. Even though there were 6 pieces which meant that we had to take 3 each, one ball was just a mouthful or two, and it contained black sesame, my favourite! Peanut would have been a good second choice but oh well, both are great. What I also liked about it was the soup base used, which is cooked in ginger, giving you a feeling of warmth as the spiciness of the ginger spreads through you on this cold day. Is it because it’s winter solstice that it feels colder that day? Because the next couple of days felt warmer, with one day even having temperatures that felt like what we typically have in Singapore, for December in Hong Kong – that is just an anomaly.
Since we were at Causeway Bay, we decided to just hang around the area and checked out Hysan Place, where we spent a long time browsing books and stuff at Eslite Bookstore that spanned several levels of the mall. They have pretty interesting reads stocked that I would have thought of buying, but they would just accumulate into clutter for me, even if I personally prefer physical books to e-books. I haven’t been reading much these recent years, which I think I resume reading, but because I was preparing to move, I decided not to get anymore stuff that would require me to transport them from the old to the new home.

After a while, it was feeding time again. Initially, we thought of having a tea/coffee break, so we were kind of looking around for tea-time sets, like coffee/tea with a slice of cake or something. But after some time, we thought that we should just have an early dinner instead, so we checked out this Japanese bistro. Perhaps it was a weekday night, so the place was quite empty, it almost felt like we had the whole restaurant to ourselves. Both of us took the set menu, which came with a small portion of salad and a mushroom soup as appetisers.These were our mains. My friend’s hamburg steak and my teriyaki grilled chicken. They were too generous with the sauce as you can probably see, and the fries were an indulgence for me. 🙂
Close-up of the mains.  
And that concludes the 冬至 day of feasting. Happy ‘belated’ winter solstice!

Year-end getaway. 

Happy 2016!

It’s amazing how time flies. 2015 seemed to have come and pass in a flash. It was a milestone sort of year for me, witnessing the first major investment of my life so far, with the finalisation of the flat purchase in early January. Renovation proper only started sometime in April, and has dragged on almost to the end of the year. Despite that it is still not 100% complete, the contractor’s work is done and the remaining items are touch-ups and ah hoc works that I found out I should or need to do. Anyway, we have officially crossed into a new year and this will be the year that sees the next chapter of my life.

Before the year ended, I took my final trip of the year, closing 2015 with 5 vacations! I ended where I started the year at – Hong Kong. It was the first vacation of 2015 in January, and it was also where I decided to go for the last vacation of 2015.

As always, flights are in the morning and what better way to start the trip pre-boarding, by having a aromatic cup of local coffee with a warm, lotus seed paste bun. These may not be the best choices for coffee or paus, but nevertheless makes for good comfort food at the airport!We arrived at the hotel in the afternoon, after the usual long, snaking queues clearing the Hong Kong arrival immigration, picking up our luggage and hopping onto the Airport Express train and then connecting shuttle bus from Hong Kong station. Our hotel, Island Pacific, located in the Western District area of Hong Kong Island, was the last stop on the shuttle bus route but it’s still quite a fuss-free and complimentary connection from airport to hotel!

The view from our room, which we didn’t really take the time to enjoy because most days we are out in the day. At night, there weren’t any lights on this part of the opposite shore to beautify the view so we just kept the curtains drawn, which also helps to keep out the cold!
The hotel is generally ok, but I felt the decor and its overall look and feel were a little dated – the old-school kind of hotel complete with amber lighting. I found the housekeeping standards of the hotel quite inconsistent, and they don’t seem to be thorough enough despite that on the whole, we kept the room quite clean and tidy. Maybe that’s also the reason why they don’t spend extra effort on the house-keep because they think everything is in place? Hmm.  The bathroom, with the marble vanity top, is just so typical. Haha.
After dropping off our luggage and snapping some photos of the room, we decided to head out to grab coffee. In anticipation of possibly nicer coffee that I could get, I hadn’t requested for any coffee or tea onboard, and the short hours I had the night before had already wore out the effects of the morning Kopi-O. Or so I would like to think, to justify the need for a second cuppa!

There was this place in Sheung Wan that was on my list of cafes to visit and as we walked past it, it was just the opportune time to pop in. Barista Jam, which was just on the street opposite to Holiday Inn Express Soho, which I had stayed at last December, proved to be pretty good!

We ordered a muffin and chocolate mousse cake. I think the muffin had walnut but I can’t remember if it’s banana walnut, or was it with something else.I realise that muffins in Hong Kong now are made without the proverbial ‘muffin top’, with the top overhanging the paper-cup. I wonder if it’s a conscious effort to steer away from the negative connotation of eating muffins and growing a muffin top as a result. Haha. Anyway, it was pretty forgettable and quite a disappointment for me because the top wasn’t as crunchy/crisp as I would have liked it to be. It’s rather soft, without too much distinction of texture from how the inside spongey/cakey part felt, so after this I actually did not order any more muffins from other cafes. Perhaps a good idea as well to keep to my goal of having less of such indulgences.
The chocolate mousse cake was not too bad though, as the cocoa or chocolate used had a tinge of bitterness and wasn’t oozing of overbearing sweetness like how some cakes tended to be. The size was also a comfortable one for sharing and went perfectly well with a cup of coffee or tea. 🙂The crema of my long black, along with the gold foil paper used to hold the cake, exudes an appropriate festive, yuletide feel for the moment.
We continued our traipse along down to Central, where we headed into the Landmark, and check out how elaborate their Christmas decoration was. Malls in Hong Kong probably try to outdo one another in their annual Christmas decor, and it’s on a completely different level and scale from what we have in Singapore! I wonder if any of their festive decorative pieces have caused any mishaps though. There were oodles of people all around this centerpiece vying for the best angles to take pictures or selfies. As much as I could, I tried to get a shot without too many heads bobbing at the bottom, and I think I did quite an ok job at that!

A love affair with peanut butter

I think I have always liked peanut butter. But recently, I seem to be giving in to my craving more to indulge in it. It doesn’t help that I discovered, some years ago, that the local cafes (starting with Ya Kun, and subsequently now, more and more of these local outfits) are having peanut butter as a regular item on their menu! 🙂

I love Ya Kun’s toast, because it is crispy and crunchy, as compared to the generally much softer and not-at-all crispy/crunchy “toast” from Killiney or some other cafes. When they had a version that had peanut butter as the spread, that was like a heaven-sent. I don’t know what else they spread on it, but to be precise, I always tell them I want the “peanut butter toast, without butter”. I know it sounds a bit silly, since peanut butter is a term in itself, but I infer that butter is the basic spread on every single type of toast, followed by whatever else they spread, so I do not want the butter, but only want the peanut spread. It goes fabulously with a coffee or tea, especially now that I have discovered the goodness of coffee sans milk, a.k.a. kopi-o (siew dai). I have tried it without sugar, and it is drinkable, but doesn’t really taste good, somehow.

Along with the other cafes that I have now discovered offering peanut butter / crunchy peanut toast, Toast Box’s version is one of my latest favourite, the multi-grain peanut thick toast. Pairing a slice of thick, toasted, chewy bread with a generous spread of crunchy peanut butter is absolute nirvana for someone like me who loves bread AND peanut butter. Just check out this awesome deal.As compared to the usual kaya butter toast, I think this would also serve as a slightly healthier choice? Although I doubt that the peanut butter is worth any less calories, because I do taste the saltiness in it, but as I really love peanut butter, I would like to comfort myself that it is a better choice, whether comparing it against the kaya butter, kaya sugar, or whatever other toast, or even against the muffins, cakes or pastries that I would have ordered had I visited Starbucks or Coffee Bean instead.

The picture earlier had a filter, rendering it in a nicer hue of colour. This is another closer look at the toast in plain colour. Still awesome; as I look at it, despite just having had lunch not long ago, I am craving for it. I wonder when, or if I can ever stop craving bread and spreads.
Once, I visited another Toast Box, and they didn’t have the multi-grain thick toast, bleah. The cashier wasn’t particularly friendly too as she responded that they do not have it, and also because I do not really fancy having thick toast in white bread, I decided to just order the “Traditional Toast” with peanut butter. I don’t know if I should qualify it as a bad choice… because their traditional toast is really pathetic; they sliced off the sides of the bread, then cut it into half with some spread in-between, and this is what you get.IMG_4067A serving of peanut butter toast that I get from Ya Kun, Coffee & Toast or Nanyang Old Coffee (is that its name), gives you 4 pieces of bread, because they use the old type of white bread (usually dyed brown) that is longish/rectangular-shaped. This is probably the newer, modern kind of square bread. This obviously fitted nowhere within my huge appetite and left me totally unsatisfied. It also didn’t make things better that the traditional toast wasn’t well-toasted, by my standards, so it didn’t feel crunchy enough.
IMG_4068Not that the thick toast is super well-toasted; in fact, it isn’t as well. But the chewiness of the multi-grain toast alleviated that deficiency, and I’m happy to just chew on the bread with the copious amount of peanut butter literally dripping off the surface of the toast.

More Merry Bites from Starbucks!

Moving right along to lighter and happier posts, I continue my eating ‘trek’ of festive treats from the cafes. I am that limited when it comes to cafe-food, because I am too lazy to venture to new cafes, which explains why most of my food posts are from repeat places. Hmm. Something to chew on, perhaps?

Met up with a friend sometime back because I had a sweets craving. It is not atypical for such a craving to occur, just that usually I follow my meals immediately with something sweet, but in this case I combined both the meal and dessert, so there you have it – a sweet treat and a savoury for the meal.Presenting more of Starbucks’ Merry Bites – the Sticky Ginger Date Pudding, and the Triple Turkey Pie.

Starbucks describes the pie as a “hearty pie that’s filled with a trio of turkey – ham, bacon and smoked; a cherished Christmas staple”. I guess turkey has always been associated with Christmas, at least to me, and the same goes for cranberries, though the latter I have no idea why. Maybe it is because of its colour and how when it’s used in food/drinks it adds to the festive cheer? The pie in its full, glazed, glory.
And the cross-sectional view of its inside. I don’t think I would have known that it’s a turkey pie, not that I know what to expect of the taste of turkey ham, smoked turkey or bacon, because it doesn’t have a very distinctive taste. However, it does remind me of a typical chicken pie complete with vegetables and potatoes; the filling feels a little like a curry puff’s filling without the spiciness. But overall, it’s not bad because I was told on a separate occasion by a Starbucks partner that the Salmon pie/quiche may be a bit salty so I decided not to pick that. The crust was fairly light and flaky, and it’s good to eat it quickly while still warm so that it still retains some crisp.

As for the pudding, its description was that of a “sweet union of candied ginger and dates, complete with caramel and white chocolate drizzle. Christmas on a plate.” as per Starbucks.
I found this a little sweet though, whether it’s the gingery paste atop the cake, or the molten insides. However, the fact that there is a hint of ginger taste kind of balances out the sweetness of this dessert. It might have been too much to finish on my own so it’s definitely good for sharing! Like I have always qualified that I have a ‘calibrated sweet tooth’, even though I admit to the sweet tooth, the threshold isn’t that high or it really depends on the particular item in question. These two choices were generally OK, neither hits or misses; last year’s Christmas menu had more interesting items to pick from, like the spicy puff pie that really felt like a giant spicy curry puff!

Starbucks Christmas 2015 Muffin

The season is here again! Since October I have already been looking forward to Christmas… or rather the whole year I have been looking forward to Christmas. It isn’t just the festive vibes that I anticipate, but the cool weather too. Despite that I am not such a big fan of the rainy season sometimes, especially when I am outside and have to get my feet or shoes wet. Rain in Singapore can be quite a horrible experience because of the thunderstorms and heavy downpours that make being out in the rain a ‘get-drenched’ affair, even with an umbrella. Yes, I think we will need a golf umbrella, a raincoat/poncho (heavy duty type) and Wellingtons, in order to stay dry.

So… I have digressed. This is the season when cafes start coming out with their festive menu, whether food or beverages. Since Starbucks is one of my usual joints, even if they don’t serve exceptionally good coffee (in fact, most people think their coffee is horrid but it works fine for me), their Christmas stuff are usually something that I would  give a try, at least a few items, at least once. The first thing that I picked for food was the Apple Cinnamon Muffin. This photo is taken off the website of Starbucks Singapore; if I have the chance, I’ll post my own photo later. 🙂

Starbucks_xmas_muffin

Is there anything special about this muffin? Well, for one, I think the hint of cinnamon isn’t very strong. That is probably good for people who are not so into it; but then if you aren’t, you probably wouldn’t even order this item right? What tops the muffin, as well as contained within (albeit in a rather small amount) is similar to what you would find in an apple pie, candied/spiced bits of apple. I think it isn’t exceedingly sweet, based on my memory of it until now, and since it is not huge for a muffin, it is just about nice to go with a nice, hot cup of Americano.

Drinks wise, I am quite happy they brought back the Gingerbread Latte. Apparently, that is what they wrote, but I don’t really remember this being on our local festive menu. For the last years when I had it, or even the first time I heard of and tried it, it was always overseas. Nevertheless, I’m glad we have it this year and that was of course the first drink I had! It isn’t as sweet as the Toffee Nut Latte, and because it has some hints of spice from the gingerbread syrup used (I assume), I generally enjoyed it and preferred it over the TNL.