Farine, Shanghai

The other place that my cousin brought me to was when we met up on Sunday, and he said he wanted to take me to this place to try “very nice French pastries”. I wouldn’t doubt his words because where gastronomic pleasures are concerned, he is definitely some sort of maestro. We met at a subway station and it was a really good, long walk from that subway station to Farine! I think there is a quicker way to get there, i.e. a nearer subway station, but he was having lunch earlier at some place and asked me to meet him there so that we could take a walk, because indulging in the pastries!

Sunday was a cold and windy day replete with ceaseless drizzling. There was some occasional respite, but somehow the entire atmosphere was still filled with the dense moisture of the rain and the winds were so strong! Despite that, as we walked and talked, under all those thick layers of clothing, I actually started sweating profusely. Eeks.

After a long time of walking where I lost track of the duration that we spent scurrying along the streets of old Shanghai, we finally reached our destination, Farine. You can read a short write-up about it here, where apprently nearby there is a French restaurant by the same chef, a Frenchman of course. Farine in itself is a small, cosy outfit with very limited room for dine-in, and since there were no available seats when we visited, we only ordered pastries and left caffeine for later.

Entering a bakery with the wonderful arresting aroma of breads and pastries baking is like nirvana to me, like unleashing a kid in a candy store. If I could, I would have bought up all the different types of breads and pastries and try them all. That is just a wild dream that will never materialise. 20131206-102400.jpg

Check out the displays of alluring pastries that look and smell so good, especially when a storm threatened outside, the indoor warmth of the bakery just makes me want to stay there for a long time. I didn’t try any of these since I was actually still fairly full from breakfast and a half-eaten not-so-nice slice of cake from Starbucks. But my cousin said they are pretty good, although he wasn’t a fan of the Kouing Amann, which he felt was too sweet for his liking. 20131206-102410.jpg

Next to the pastries were the sweets, which was his recommendation to me. I asked him which one was nice that I should try, and he said, “Just about everything”. Oh well, that’s really helpful. Don’t you think everything just looks so tempting and inviting? Their sizes also look like you could really afford to order more than one each, but then we being people with control, just ordered one per person.20131206-102416.jpg

He chose the chestnut tart, which resembled a Mont Blanc, but minus the cream. My cousin seems to really not like cream-based stuff because he said this is better than a Mont Blanc because of the cream, and there was this other puff-like pastry (somewhere on the left in the picture above) that he didn’t recommend because to him, there is just too much cream for him to like it. I took a little of the chestnut tart, which had a firm tart base and it’s really delicious! Of course it contained chestnuts and so bore its taste but what I liked about it was that it isn’t sweet like how we usually expect such tarts to be. 20131206-102424.jpg

My initial instinct was actually to order the lemon tart, because I imagined that I would enjoy the zestyness and sourness of the lemon tart, but remained undecided when I saw they had walnut tart too! I love walnuts, and to be very honest everything really did look damn good. In the end, when I laid my eyes on the pink grapefruit tart, I just had to give it a try. 20131206-102430.jpg

The grapefruit was probably added onto the tart after the baking was done, because it managed to retain its juiciness and suppleness. But the tart base here was a little different from the chestnut tart because it felt more flaky and soft, more croissant like than tart, and I had a bit of difficulty in the midst of eating this. Nevertheless, it was so good that as I was savouring this, I was quite sad that this would probably be the one and only time that I will get to enjoy it, since I would not have a chance to revisit during that business trip in Shanghai, and it will probably be some time until I next travel to Shanghai again.

We stood at a bar counter of sorts to enjoy our sweet treats, and after we were done, moved on out into the windy Sunday afternoon onwards to the next destination.

Address: Ferguson Lane, 1/F, 378 Wu Kang Road, near Tai’an Road (武康路378号1楼,
近泰安路); nearest subway station (Shanghai Library); closed on Mondays.

Green & Safe, Shanghai

Over that weekend when I was in Shanghai, I met up with one of my cousins who is currently working for an event management firm there. I guess with time, people are getting international, and are geographically mobile, so much so that these days I find a lot of people whom I know, whether close friends or not, relocating anywhere and everywhere in the world. It is interesting to know how the world is getting smaller each day and part of me always envy them for having such opportunities while I am left behind in the trail of dust from their moves. It isn’t that I have never explored this option, but things just didn’t happen in my case and maybe in my line it is a little bit harder in some way. Perhaps I should think that there is a greater reason why the overseas move just did not materialise in my life.

Anyway, on this trip, I decided to venture into the Shanghai subway once more, having only tried it once back in 2009 and deciding never to repeat the experience due to the massive congestion in the train that I totally abhor. However, this time it seemed better, maybe because it wasn’t exactly peak hours when I boarded the train, or I already got used to sardine-packed trains now. Taking cabs aren’t that expensive in Shanghai, even if I were cabbing from Pudong (where my hotel was) to Puxi, but by train, it is probably just 10% of the cab fare and it is probably quicker too. I was pretty amazed that from the station that I found to be near where I had wanted to go, Dong Ping Road, I managed to locate the place where my cousin told me to meet at, about 10 minutes’ walk from the subway.

Green & Safe, or the Green Kitchen, was where he had wanted to bring me to, some place that he frequents on weekends for brunch. Apparently, they serve organic stuff, and although I wasn’t able to find a dedicated home page online except for a Facebook page, you can find numerous reviews. Here’s a short write-up describing the place, from Smart Shanghai, and also some reviews on Trip Advisor.

My cousin was early and he ordered a fruit platter before I and 2 of his friends arrive. Based on their conversation about the order of fruit platter, it was easy to infer that prompt service isn’t a strong point of this deli, because on occasions when they had ordered the fruit platter together with the mains, the fruit platter didn’t turn up until much later, and at odd timings.

20131205-090339.jpg

But per my cousin, he said they always had interesting ways to display the fruits and you never really know what fruits you will get because it depends very much on what’s available and what is in season probably. This platter that day wasn’t the best that they had, in terms of presentation or the variety of fruits. But it was quite a good appetising start for the palate!

As I pored through the menu trying to decide on what to order (from his recommendations, most things seem to be good which proved a challenge to decide), I also thought that I wanted to try their carrot cake, which was one of the recommended items by some netizens. It is not a big slice so it won’t take up too much space away from your main. The cream cheese frosting on top of the cake was nice and rich but a little sweet for me, but it goes pretty well with the cake, which was still moist and if you can see from the pictures, contained pieces of carrot, which I really liked. 

20131205-090352.jpg

20131205-090400.jpg

There were four of us there that day, and among us, we ordered three sets of the same brunch while the fourth had a chicken dish which looked really good too (pity I didn’t snap any photo of it because I felt it wasn’t so nice to photo someone else’s food if we are meeting for the first time!). I had the scrambled egg with salmon on ciabatta (I think), served with a salad of greens and potatoes. 20131205-090409.jpg

This was truly awesome. I am not a big fan of scrambled eggs because to me they always taste somewhat weird or bland, but together with the salmon in it, and eaten together with their self-baked bread, it was delicious! It also helped that the potatoes on the sides were something that I enjoy, being such a major potato junkie, and this is definitely healthier in many aspects as compared to french fries that I indulge in.

Besides the fruits, the cake and the main, there was also this order of a cinnamon roll, served warm and infused with some chocolate sauce thing. I don’t know its exact name since I didn’t photo the menu, but that was one sinful but extremely worthwhile item to indulge in if you love cinnamon rolls. Ok, actually I don’t think it has a strong cinnamon taste if that is what you are into, but warm chocolate sauce on a cinnamon roll, that to me is already part of dessert heaven. For all that food that we had, and together with a coffee each, we paid about 140 RMB each, which works out to be something short of S$30, which although isn’t of course the cheapest thing you can think of or perhaps what some may consider affordable in Shanghai (it is after all such a cosmopolitan city already flushed with many foreigners), but for the amount and quality of food, I thought it was pretty decent. I don’t usually have such big brunches in Singapore so I am not sure about the prices here, but I think S$30 here won’t get you as much.

Address: 6, Dong Ping Road (near Heng Shan Road), Shanghai 200062, China (东平路6号, 近衡山路); in between Chang Shu Rd and Heng Shan Rd subway stations on Line 1.

Christmas at Starbucks v.04

Although I have yet to try any Christmas cakes at the Starbucks outlets in Singapore because I was always distracted by other products, while I was in Shanghai, I decided to order a cake one morning just before I was due to meet my cousin for desserts. Well, I know it’s a strange decision but I already had breakfast by then and I wasn’t really interested in any sandwiches or muffins that cold, wet Sunday morning in Shanghai. And this was what I ordered:20131204-101728.jpg

If I recalled its name correctly, it is a White Chocolate Raspberry cake, or something along those lines. I don’t really remember now, and for good reason. All that I can vaguely recall of this was that it’s just very creamy and it wasn’t nice. The flaky crusted part felt a little like a croissant, and the white chocolate chip atop the cake was still decent at best, but the rest of it was just a major miss. The creamy part was a little like mousse, and does not taste good, so obviously I left a good portion of it behind on the plate, utterly disappointed.20131204-101734.jpg

I thought it looked pretty promising though. And after that, I didn’t order any more cakes from Starbucks. I had a much better experience thereafter at the dessert place that my cousin brought me to, and he was laughing about how I’d wasted caloric space for this not-nice item.

from dusk till dawn.. shanghai edition

I have never been to Shanghai for vacation. Since the first time I visited until the most recent trip that I returned from last Friday, it has always been for work. In all, I have been there four times, coincidentally the first three times all happening in March and the last trip in November. I’m thankful that I did not have to deal with the extreme weather conditions that could happen to Shanghai, whether it is the harsh winter or the biting summer days. Even as I just heard a news report about some pollution that affected Shanghai yesterday or today, as much as I worry for the people whom I know living there, I am glad that I am now back home in Singapore. Sure, most big Chinese cities are always having a problem of pollution, and even as I was there for the 2 weeks I could already tell that the skyline was never really crystal clear, but yet I was blessed with fairly great weather for the fortnight I was there, only having a day of cold, rainy weather with strong winds that could easily wreck an umbrella.

At this time of the year, the sun sets pretty early. I got in on a Monday late afternoon, and as the taxi took me along the expressway towards the bustling city, the fading lights of the sun that was creeping slowly beyond the horizon cast an ephemeral beauty that somehow evokes a feeling of poignant solitude.

20131202-134249.jpgSome cab rides that I have took over the last two years, shuttling between airports and hotels, have been hour-long journeys or more, some of which I have enjoyed to a certain extent despite the suffocating smell of stale tobacco that reeks in the interior of the car. These scenes that flash past as the vehicle cruises along the freeways always make for such a great moment of reflection and deliberation about anything or everything. It doesn’t even need any prompting of any sort because thoughts just conjure themselves up in my mind that is never wont to rest. I think I will miss this part as well, a part of travelling that I am unwilling to bid adieu to. But as with all things in life, there always comes a point when we have to say farewell and let go. It is only when we learn to let go of things that we can start to embrace new things and experiences and grow.

I tried to take the time to enjoy my two weeks, even as I was struggling to put in effort to revise for my exam in the nights after returning from the office. It was never a problem to rouse myself early each morning to hit the gym before heading for a good hearty breakfast just before going to the office, but to really focus on revision in the nights proved a challenge, in the ambient lighting of the hotel room, coupled with the general fatigue of the day brought on by work or just being awake for long hours, I could not manage beyond an hour of studying.

The weekend was great, and I had some time to really have a good chat with my cousin, someone I recalled being a baby just recently but who has now grown into a fine, young man, and time just went by so quickly that I wished I could stretch it out more. Still, I’m thankful that we met up and caught up. It always feel so good to talk to someone for real after engaging in mindless banter with people whom we can’t really speak freely with.

20131202-134254.jpgTwo weeks, or 12 days just went by. It’s now December, the final month of the year, yet it is also the time for new beginnings. This beautiful sight of the sun that is starting to brighten up the world, emblazoning the once pitch black sky with a spectrum of rainbow colours from violet all the way to red, greeted me as I tried to stay warm in the frosty temperatures of the wintry morning onwards to the airport.

It is always intriguing what brings people together in this world, but it is also interesting how they eventually can grow apart. I suppose in a similar way, whether it is with people or with things in our lives, we always must know when we should let go and do so with grace. Hanging on to something that is no longer there is meaningless because it just breeds more unhappiness with the forced attempts to make things work.

Let’s head towards a happier future, towards a more positive life and towards a better self.

Donut King, Shanghai

If I remember correctly, there is Mister Donut in China. Maybe somewhere in Shanghai that I’ve seen in the past trips, but I don’t really remember where. Anyway, on the ground floor of the office building that I was at, there is a Donut King, a small shop or counter that sells doughnuts reminding me of Mister Donut because of the Pon De Ring (what Mister Donut calls it). They have something similar, and last year when I was working from this same office, I’d tried it once or a couple of times and thought it was pretty decent.

So this year, I bought some doughnuts from them again, with the same promotion they had, which is the buy-5-get-1-free, ending up in this selection.

20131201-001020.jpg

The one right on top is the one that I was talking about, the Mister Donut Pon de Ring doppelganger, with the chocolate-coated version beside. I don’t fancy doughnuts that much to be honest, and I’ve tried Krispy Kreme (so far not the Singapore branch yet though) in Jakarta, Hong Kong (while it was still opened many years ago), Seoul and also Manila, but I don’t find them to be any special at all. I like Mister Donut’s Pon de Ring, which is made up of connected donut balls in a ring, but it isn’t the fun of tearing out the balls one by one and popping them into my mouth that makes it interesting to eat, rather it’s the chewiness of the dough that I like. Maybe that’s why KK’s doughnuts don’t do it for me, because they are not as chewy and I prefer chewy stuff. Yet I do like those sugar-coated traditional confectionery type doughnuts as well, although their texture is pretty much like the usual doughnuts in stores, whether J.Co or otherwise.

Interestingly, when I was in the Philippines recently, I was told by a local that KK isn’t that popular there, instead J.Co or Dunkin Donuts are more popular, but the reason wasn’t told to me, if there is even one in the first place. I think the queue at Singapore’s KK has somewhat shortened significantly from when it just opened in the basement of Tangs. I can’t confirm this yet though, because I haven’t walked past for a few weeks; the last time I went past the queue probably had about 20 persons, much shorter than its first week of opening which saw queues forming all the way to where the ATMs were.

Back to Donut King. Sorry for sidetracking. This time, I was disappointed because the doughnut wasn’t as nice. It was still chewy to a certain extent, but this one I had was somewhat of an original glazed version, the others were all chocolate/caramel-coated or something like that, they didn’t have what Mister Donut sells, which is without any glazed sugar but some other powdered coating stuff. And this glazed version of Donut King was just too sweet for my liking that I had to scrap off the glazed coat as much as I could, making the whole doughnut-eating process extremely messy. So you can pretty much guess I didn’t return for seconds thereafter.

cold but sunny

The climate here in Shanghai now reminds me of some of those trips that I made to Tokyo in recent years during winter time, when the sun is out in its blazing glory with sunshine that is so glaring that you have to squint your eyes whenever you’re facing where the sun comes from, but yet the air and the entire atmosphere is so cold that the moment you exit the warmth and cosiness of a building and its heated environment, your whole being wakes up from being arrested by that jolt of shiver that runs down your spine. It is a nice feeling actually, despite that I don’t take to the cold well at all. I am averse to extremities in temperatures, either hot or cold, and although I prefer cold to hot, my body doesn’t adjust too well to it. The skin on my hands are so dry and wrinkly like a dried-up prune, even with the copious slathering of hand cream and lotions throughout the day. I have been pretty religious about applying body lotion so for now I think the rest of the body is ok, it’s just the hands that are constantly exposed to the harsh, dry climate since I don’t wear gloves and it is virtually impossible to even if I had wanted to because I need to work, sans gloves. 20131128-083300.jpg

But cold and sunny is definitely better than cold and rainy/drizzly/gloomy. At least when I step outside I don’t feel like the climate is making me depressed. Whether it is for work or play, I’m sure most people prefer sunny days, because it just makes us feel better. Rain is good, only when I’m indoors and sipping on a cup of hot cocoa, wrapped up in a thick, fuzzy blanket with nice music piped in in the background.

This is the kind of weather that goes perfectly well with Christmas actually, the cold (and the sun that I like), but I am looking forward to going home as well. Today is the final day of work here, and this has been a fairly good trip. Maybe psychologically I already feel good about it, especially it being the year-end and this being the last trip, and for the whole of the 10 or so days that I have been in Shanghai thus far, only Sunday was a downer because it rained pretty much the whole day and it was cold, windy and gloomy. The other days were fine, with bouts of sunshine and cloudiness, but usually mornings are bright and cheery.

Happy Thursday everyone! It’s Friday tomorrow!

最後

Last business trip for the year!

As much as I have tried to attempt to blog even though I am blocked by the Great Firewall of China, it hasn’t really happened. At least, not like I had hoped to, with pictures. You can tell that I am getting lazy, but it is also because with the cold I have been more susceptible to feeling tired and also because business trips typically mean longer hours (than my usual) in the office, not to mention the post-office hours obligatory dinners.

Besides, I had to use some of the free after-work time for my Japanese homework, since these three weeks out of Singapore mean I have lots to catch up on.

I thought I’d use the weekend to study, since weekday nights my brain is already too spent to concentrate, and hotel rooms are hardly the place to focus on studying what with the ambient lighting that just induces slumber. But on both Saturday and Sunday, I was out for most parts of the day with the sweet cousin who took me to really nice places to binge and grow fat at. Oh well, the exercise will have to re-kickstart itself again when I get back, when life finally goes back to the usual routine.

Heading back home at the end of the work week. I always have this wish that my family would be at the airport to welcome me back home, always wistfully looking on as others have their families there to fetch them as I weave through the crowds, clear the customs, pick up my luggage and leave. Oh well, that’s how I learn to be independent don’t I?