Revisiting Artisan Boulangerie Company

Recently, I have been going to ABC more often. Even though the cafe is fairly cosy and limited in terms of seating capacity, it ranks above Starbucks and Coffee Bean as somewhere to chill. Probably this is also due to the relatively faster turnover of customers, who do not hog the seats for an extended duration beyond an hour. Mostly, customers just get seated, eat and go. It isn’t so much like Starbucks or Coffee Bean where the customers sit down, get a drink and then continue to be glued to their seats for the next 5 hours.

Food is pricier which could also explain the different customer demography but cafe-goers are generally quite well-to-do and so this shouldn’t be a factor. Quality of food and coffee is definitely better here too! Well, most of them anyway. I have tried various items and so far, most of them have proven to be good and quite worth the price paid.

This time I ordered a quiche, which I’ve been told is not too bad, and comes served with a portion of salad. This was my order, fearing that I wouldn’t have enough to eat since the quiche didn’t look like it could satiate me.
Looking at the available choices, it was not easy to make a decision but I finally picked the Spinach and Goat Cheese Quiche, both being items that I really enjoy. Actually, these days I haven’t been so big on quiches because the egg has somehow dulled my enjoyment. I do like eggs but in quiche, they tend to taste a little too ‘eggy’? I don’t know but it would have been better without. Haha, although then it wouldn’t be called a quiche. An eggless quiche? It was really good though, and the size was actually just right, balancing the egg with the rest of the ingredients to put together a complementary taste of egg, goat cheese and spinach. Goes extremely well with coffee by the way! But I think the usual Long Black would have made a better choice than the Flat White which I ordered, again with the unnecessary paranoia that the quiche is not enough for sustenance.
Here’s a closer look of the quiche. Thumbs up!

You’d see that I ordered an additional Blueberry muffin to go along with my meal, which again was quite superfluous. I wanted to have a balance of sweet and savoury, so I ordered a muffin, being mindful of the overall cost, as the muffin is cheaper than a tart (yes I am cheapskate and calculative like that). But in all honesty, I should have just gone for the tart, because their Lemon Curd Tart is pretty good and zesty, and I hadn’t actually tried their muffins before, which turned out to be a letdown.  I took a bite of the top of the muffin, and felt it tasted weird. They probably didn’t bake this in-house, because it looked like it came from some mass-producer. Even though there is some sweetness to the muffin it tasted flat and artificial, like it was just flour and colouring, without much scent and sweetness that I was wont to expect for muffins. Perhaps this is considered healthier or more natural? I wouldn’t know. After a disappointed first bite, and also because I was rather stuffed after the quiche and flat white, I asked for a takeaway bag to pack the muffin and brought it home.

Last night, I took it out of the fridge and the top was so hard and stiff like a rock! LOL. I let it stand outside for a while, not wanting to heat up the oven just for the little muffin, and when it has softened/thawed slightly, proceeded to eat it. Again, it just didn’t feel right so I did what I usually won’t do, and threw the rest away. Makes me feel bad to waste it, but it really wasn’t nice at all, or rather it was so tasteless that it would have been like chewing and swallowing dough.

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Gontran Cherrier, Tokyo Shinjuku

Once when I was in Tokyo with the same two friends I spent a few days together with in Tokyo this April, we popped into the Gontran Cherrier bakery and cafe that was located in the Shibuya area. I haven’t always been able to find it, knowing how confusing the streets of Tokyo can be. I don’t exactly have a bad sense of direction but then again I won’t claim to be the best navigator anytime.

Before heading to Tokyo, I realised that there is a new Gontran Cherrier that opened in Shinjuku, very near to the hotel that I am putting up at. Being a huge fan of carbs, baked stuff, pastries, flour, or however you want to put that, I was always looking longingly when I walked past at the rows upon rows of croissants, muffins, buns and what-have-yous.
So one morning I decided to have my breakfast there. For a one person breakfast, this is my typical order, i.e. a coffee and one pastry item, be it a muffin or bun.I couldn’t remember what were the things that I read off the tag for this muffin, utilising whatever lousy Japanese I could muster or recall, but somehow “chestnut” seemed to be on my mind and while I was savouring this, I wondered where the chestnut was. It turned out that this is a kind of roasted pumpkin muffin! In a way, it is sort of both sweet and savoury at the same time, but perhaps skewing more to the sweet side since pumpkins have a natural sweetness to them.  Really miss the flavour of it, especially when it is topped with some crunchy walnuts – combination of a few of my favourite things, i.e. muffin, walnuts and pumpkin all rolled into one! How can anyone be happier or ask for more?

When my two friends arrived in Tokyo, we met up and headed for breakfast at Dean & Deluca, but it was full so I brought them over to Gontran Cherrier instead, and check out what we ordered, for the 3 of us, and compare this with my one-person-breakfast above. Haha.

We picked 2 scones, a Matcha, white chocolate scone as well as a Butter Raisin scone. These are nice, fragrant and buttery but I find them to be a little dry and too crumbly, if you look at the second photo where the scone just falls apart when you push a fork into it. Maybe it’s meant to be eaten in one mouthful? I wouldn’t know and I wouldn’t try either!   We also ordered a mini quiche, which I didn’t have much of it but it does look pretty good from my friends’ enjoyment of its smooth eggy interior.  And on the other tray we had, clockwise from top left, a Chocolate Banana muffin, a croissant (which I can’t remember the flavour), some melon bun of sorts and a curry baguette! A total of about 7 items, for 3 persons! O_O As compared to the pumpkin muffin I had, the chocolate banana muffin was a little disappointing because the banana was probably represented by the mousse atop the muffin. I would have preferred it if the banana in the muffin was more like real banana pieces, and the chocolate, perhaps again it was my misunderstanding or mis-reading but it tasted more like brown sugar and on the whole, this muffin felt softer without the crunch that I usually enjoy from the muffin top.  However, there is no denying that this is still a good place to visit if you are a fan of baked items! Besides these, of course they have regular sandwiches and breads without fillings on the inside, e.g. rolls, loaves, etc. I recalled lamenting about not having this here in Singapore and was aptly reminded that we do have it, in the form of Tiong Bahru Bakery by Gontran Cherrier. So there you have it!

Starbucks Christmas moments part 3

On with my continued Starbucks Christmas delights’ quest, I decided to order a quiche on this third outing. The size of their quiches are fairly small in comparison to what I am used to seeing elsewhere, though priced at S$5.90. Is it just me, or is the pricing of Starbucks’ food items relatively expensive? I seldom order quiches these days so I’m not that well-informed with pricing. Anyhow, it isn’t breaking news that our cost of living is high, especially when we want to impute a certain lifestyle factor into it. That said, because it is a choice to go to Starbucks for a quiche and coffee, when I could also have opted for something more affordable.  IMG_0361.JPG

So this is my choice of the Brussel Sprouts quiche. It is a Christmas item though as to how brussel sprouts are associated with Christmas is beyond my level of limited general knowledge. 😀

I have never had a quiche that contains brussel sprouts, in fact, I seldom eat this vegetable since it is not something that my mum will cook, or that perhaps that she even knows of. But I’m definitely not averse to it and actually I rather enjoy it for its taste that feels a little like cabbage with a more distinct and sweeter tinge on the palate. Whole brussel sprouts are used generously in the quiche, as I managed to eat quite a lot of it, so maybe the $5.90 I paid for it is worth every penny. The egg in the quiche is nice and creamy without being overwhelming and is a good twist on the usual spinach quiche, I think.IMG_0362.JPG

Eating this item warmed up accompanied by a nice cup of coffee makes for a nice afternoon enjoyment, even if it is slightly oily like how most pastries tend to be. As compared to the turkey sandwich, this is more of a hit, and perhaps I can consider trying the other pies and quiches that are making a limited appearance during this festive season!

Maison Kayser, Wheelock Place

 

After countless times of walking past Maison Kayser ever since it opened its doors in late December 2012 in Wheelock Place (since it is almost a daily route that I pass through despite that I do not work or live in Orchard Road), I finally popped into the cafe for a bite! I don’t have pictures of the place but one of my blogger friends do have some pictures on her blog, so you can check them out here, as well as many other food place that she has visited and provided pretty insightful reviews of.

I have never really seen its cafe at Wheelock’s basement being crowded to the point of queues forming, but perhaps I didn’t notice enough. As compared to its location at Scotts Square’s basement, I would agree with bookjunkie that this is indeed not as peaceful. When I asked for a table for two when I went, they offered me a table near the fountain but remarked it might be noisier, especially also since that was just next to the ever-popular Nam Nam, so I chose a table at the other corner closer to the carpark, which was really much quieter.

To be very honest, I was a little disappointed at the menu selections they have. I love their breads, there is no doubt about it, ever since I tried their brioche and pain aux raisin noix but I thought I would try something different for an eat-in experience, and as I browsed their menu whether it was for lunch or tea, it was pretty limited. The selections still look good of course, as I was very tempted to order a french toast set, but decided instead to go for a more manageable order of a salmon quiche. Maybe that isn’t that forte or niche, because there wasn’t anything spectacular about the quiche but I didn’t feel very “bread-y” that afternoon for some reason, so I haven’t ordered their famous breads or tarts.

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My friend ordered a super huge-looking thing that was supposed to be a garlic bread, but her take on it was that it was plain and bland without any garlic taste at all. I had a cappuccino, which priced at S$6.70, seemed a tad high, because it too did not wow me that much. My friend’s pot of lavender and rose tea at S$6.40 also skewed toward the pricey side to me, although I didn’t try it and don’t know if it belonged to some top-grade type of tea. I took a whiff of it and it reminded me of aromatherapy oils. Weird.

What we enjoyed was the little financier that was served with both our coffee and tea, which are for sale too. However they could be a little oily for some though. Service was courteous and polite, much better than the cold service I got at Scotts Square when I dropped in once to buy a bread. I would definitely continue to pay for their breads because they are just so good, even if eating them on a regular basis would be costlier than a weekly loaf of Gardenia for breakfast. That being said, I love bread so much that with such options available now I can’t help myself!

agnès b. café L.P.G., Eslite Mall – 信義誠品店, Taipei

After a year or so, I finally made it to the agnès b. café L.P.G. (Le Pain Grillé), an outlet which is located at the Eslite Mall in Taipei, also known as 信義誠品店, one of the well-known bookstores in Taipei. It is well-connected to the Taipei City Hall subway station, where you can walk through the basement food hall of Hankyu Department store directly to the basement of Eslite Mall, and find it on the ground level in a corner that also opens out onto the street. The bookstore is on level two where the Eslite Cafe is located (which I tried last year and found it not bad with its tea break offerings and Lavazza coffee), and on the ground and basement levels, there are some pretty cool-looking clothing stores/counters. Of course, my main aim was to check out the cafe, especially since I have still yet to regain my shopping mood/inspiration that has gone astray long before. Last year when I was in Taipei in June, this was one of the places I wanted to check out, unfortunately the day that I visited, it was closed for some shooting, which was why I ventured upstairs and found the Eslite Cafe. This time, as we concluded our work slightly earlier and had a couple of free hours before our flight home, I thought that I could grab this chance to visit, and my two colleagues decided to join me since they didn’t have any better ideas where to go to pass time.

On a Friday afternoon, this place was relatively quiet and peaceful, even though we got there right about past 12. I guess most people would be having a proper lunch, either at the food courts/outlets elsewhere, or having takeaways in their offices (which seems like what a lot of Taiwanese office peeps do). There was a rather massive queue at Starbucks that was also on the ground level but at the other flank of the building. Anyway, it was good for us since it meant it was easy to find a table. The cafe isn’t sprawling, there is this counter that you see here, stocked with very attractive but relatively pricey agnes b. stuff, including mugs and cookies, etc., and in front of the counter would be the tables and chairs, probably at most 20 small tables in total.

I had the cappuccino, despite just having a Starbucks cafe latte while I was at the office, because I just had to have coffee in a cafe, that’s me. And because it was lunch time, and because I am in a cafe and need to order some food, I chose their cute-looking muffins over the sandwiches or pastries/cakes, even though those were the main highlight in the display case.

I don’t think the coffee is fabulous, but it isn’t bad either; it’s just ok. It’s not that kind of coffee where you’d drink and go “woah” whether that exclamation is due to it being exceptionally good or bad. I really need to start improving on my memory of how things taste, or at least make a note to jot down on the spot what I think of the food and drinks I have had, instead of just relying on my unreliable memory and which in the absence of, I can only fall back on whether I felt it was terribly good or bad.

The muffin was a good choice though. I chose it because it looked nice and small, a size where I wouldn’t feel like I am overindulging in carbohydrates like most other muffins tend to be. But after I was done with it, I just wanted more. The muffin isn’t dense and moist like some baked stuff tend to be, or dry and crumbly like how I dislike muffins to be, it was in a state of being just nice. And this was an oat-bran flavour that I have a bias towards these days. My taste buds have grown to not fancy things that are overtly sweet in general (for most foodstuff anyway), and this wasn’t sweet. I used to, and still, like blueberry-flavoured muffins but because blueberry is a fruit and some places probably use syrup or sweetened blueberry jam or something to bake the muffins (I don’t really know actually), they can become really sweet. Where oat bran is concerned, it gives the muffin a flavour without becoming sweet, plus I can delude myself to thinking that it is actually a healthy choice.

Both my colleagues aren’t coffee drinkers like the addict that I am, and one of them ordered the hot chocolate and quiche. She commented that the quiche was nice but it was too cheesy, so she ended up not finishing it, even though it really wasn’t that huge. Quiches have started to become another of my downfalls, hmm, seems like my list of kryptonite is getting longer and longer, urgh, I have to start culling it. But I didn’t try the quiche so I don’t know, cheese is generally ok for me, but I have encountered situations where I have also start feeling overwhelmed when there is too much cheese or when the quiche is too creamy due to the egg.

The other colleague didn’t order any food, but got this instead. I don’t really know what it is because I hadn’t asked, but it does look pretty nice, and of course, sinful, doesn’t it? With the froth and a dollop of whipped cream on top!

Overall, the agnes b. cafe experience in Taipei was good, and I suspect that the circumstances had a part to play in it as well, since it wasn’t crowded when I was there and it was the end of a work trip just before heading home. Everything felt good at that point. The next time I am in Taipei, if I were to have the opportunity to visit the cafe again, I will probably try the other food items. Or if I happen to visit Hong Kong, I will need to make a trip to one of their agnes b. cafes too!

The Orange Thimble, Tiong Bahru

 

A couple of months back (yes, I know I have been tardy), a colleague and I had some time to drive to Tiong Bahru and I suggested that we check out this place after the last outing to Forty Hands. I wished I had more opportunities to check out the cafe scene in Tiong Bahru because there seemed to be several other cafes in the vicinity that seem interesting and perhaps worthy of a visit.

This time, it was Orange Thimble, which my friend blogged about before. It’s located at Eng Hoon street, much nearer to the Tiong Bahru market, and it shouldn’t be difficult to find because it’s just next door to the bustling Tiong Bahru Bakery (another place I can’t wait to check out) that has recently opened a branch in the basement of Raffles City.

As we were fairly early, we got to choose our seats, so we took a table next to the front window. I think this served as a lamp at night, but it’s innovative to use this, which I don’t know a name for, as a lampshade.

And they also had the beeper device thingy that some F&B outlets are catching on in using these days. This looked rather DIY to me too.

View of the cafe interior from our vantage point. There is a separate seating area on the inside that uses glass for parts of the ceiling, which allows natural light to filter through for a brighter interior. I didn’t go in to check it out, but was told about it by my friend who went there before.

The menu isn’t very extensive, but they serve the usual cafe fare like sandwiches and breakfasts, and an assortment of pastries. Being a pastry person generally, I cannot resist them, so eventually after a bout of deliberation, I chose the spinach quiche. It isn’t a very big slice but is just sufficient to make you feel too overwhelmed with the egg.

My colleague ordered a sandwich, and this is how it looks. Two months down the road, I really cannot recall what was ordered, but it looks like mushroom and cheese with perhaps some ham? I thought the bread looked yummy, and the comments were that it’s not too bad, but as compared to the sandwich at Forty Hands, this paled somewhat, especially since sandwiches at Forty Hands come in a very generous portion!

And now for coffee. A flat white, and a cafe latte. I liked the little old school biscuits that came with the coffee, brings back nice childhood memories. Coffee was acceptable, but not as strong as Forty Hands. Sorry that I kept comparing Orange Thimble with Forty Hands, but since these are the only two cafes that I have visited in Tiong Bahru so far, I can’t help but one as a reference point.

Finally, we ordered the Hazelnut Dacquoise for dessert, which was really good! The chocolate was not sweet and it was so rich and sinful, perfect for sharing.

Food aside, I think this cafe is slightly bigger in terms of space, so they had the luxury of giving you a little more room between the tables and you don’t have to (over)hear the conversations of neighbouring tables. Forty Hands on the other hand, tends to get rather crammed since the layout of the cafe is narrow and longish, and with the lunch crowd, it gets a little warm and uncomfortable even though the place is air-conditioned.