Happy birthday!

So without much fanfare as per the norm these days, my birthday came and went. It was such a typical day, going to work… just that I got the afternoon off and went off to meet my sis(-in-law) for lunch.

What are birthdays without cakes, especially when I have developed a sweet tooth somewhere along the way over these years.

This wasn’t a birthday cake. In fact, I got this for my friend (and also for myself to try) when I visited her at her home while she was recuperating from a surgery. It’s a new cake offered by Starbucks, a Coconut cream sponge cake, that was surprisingly quite nice, to me. Perhaps because it’s meant to be a sponge cake after all, it didn’t feel dense and heavy, and the coconut scent/taste wasn’t too strong or overpowering. I didn’t really take the cream that much so I can’t comment how good or bad it is. But overall, it’s pretty alright and good for sharing, as always!This was a real birthday cake. Ahead of my birthday, and also my bro’s, who has his birthday in this month too, my eldest bro and sis-in-law took us out for lunch one balmy Sunday afternoon, and surprised us after a hearty and comforting local delights lunch with these 2 slices of birthday cakes topped with candles! This was the one and only candle that I blew out this year. The food we had was good, it had a rather authentic ‘wok hei’ to it, and the cakes were also delicious. Maybe it was made even better because of the thoughts behind and enjoying the special moment as the birthday girl. 🙂Not a cake, but there’s still ‘cake’, i.e. Korean seafood pancake. Haha. Met a friend for dinner and she was having a craving for Korean food so off to a Korean eatery we went! The food was yummy, whether it’s the main or the ban-chan. I loved the japchae, even if it was a little oily but perhaps that was what made it so good! The portion was so generous for it being called an ‘appetiser’ or ‘starter’ so thankfully I didn’t order any main. With the ban-chan, the japchae and the pancake, I think I was already stuffed but yet I couldn’t resist not cleaning up whatever I could because the food was just too good (imho) and I hate wasting. As much as I possibly could.So when I met sis for lunch on the actual day, she brought me to U-town and we had lunch at a bistro. Even though we went fairly late for lunch, the place was still packed. But with the luxury of time that afternoon, we could afford to sit around and by the time we were done with our mains, the place already sort of cleared out and we could enjoy our cakes and coffee in peace while having a nice chat.

The carrot cake that we ordered wasn’t as good as we had hoped or expected it to be. But oh well, we can’t really tell if it’s good just based on looks. It had a rather flat taste and the sponge part felt a tad too dry and hard. But the apple crumble tart was good though! Sis commented that the carrot cake carried more cinnamon than the apple tart but I thought the taste came from the spiced apples within the tart. Anyhow, we really enjoyed the tart and it was a great and relaxing way to spend the afternoon.So that summed up my birthday celebration, if you would even consider it as a celebration. I suppose that as time passes and we age, birthdays become less of an event and quieter. We don’t need to be surrounded with people to celebrate our birthdays, or huge and noisy parties. That was never really my thing anyway. Quiet one-on-one or family gatherings are preferred because these are the people who matter anyway. 🙂

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Starbucks’ new sandwich menu 

Being the Starbucks fan that I am, I was pleasantly surprised when recently (ok not so recent anymore but this happened in 2016!) they launched a new lunch menu that saw 5 new sandwiches being introduced. For some time, they had a really boring food menu and whenever I wanted to have something substantial, SB would be the last on my mind. Even when they had sandwiches back then, they didn’t look at all appetising or filling for my voracious appetite, and besides they are pre-packed in the chilled display cases that somehow also do not whet my appetite the least bit. I would much rather go to, say Coffee Bean, where sandwiches are prepared only when ordered (or at least that’s what I remembered, if they still do that). Granted that the ingredients are a premix (e.g. chicken / tuna mayonnaise), at least the sandwich is put together upon order so the final product isn’t sitting on the rack for goodness knows how long.

The last menu they had wasn’t too bad – I liked the Tuscan Chicken sandwich that I had quite a number of times and it was satisfying enough for a meal. Their breakfast items have fared better so far, with the Egg White, Roasted Pepper, Mushroom & Cheddar wrap being one of my favourites, and now to add on, there’s also the Rosemary Chicken with Emmental Cheese croissant and Turkey Ham, Egg White & Cheddar sandwich.

This is their latest lunch sandwich menu:

Starbucks_sandwich_new2016I made it a point to try all of them and so far I’ve actually already tried 4! I’m not sure if I will get to try the last one, which is Beef Meatball Marinara croissant, since beef meatballs… maybe not.

So the first item off the list was Roasted Portobello, Pumpkin & Devilled Egg sandwich. What does devilled mean anyway? I have no idea, and I don’t know if I even tasted any egg because I didn’t really open up the sandwich since I was having brunch then with someone else and I didn’t want to seem like a messy eater playing with my food. I really liked this, and it contains mushrooms and pumpkin which also explains why it’s the first that I wanted to try. Love the bread used for the sandwich, with its sprinkling of black and white sesame and pumpkin seeds on top. Roasted mushrooms and pumpkins inside also makes everything so much better!

The choice of bread used for the sandwich greatly affects whether I order it or not. Maybe it’s also because it’s the biggest part of the item, so sometimes it may be a greater contributor to my choice rather than the filling itself! The second item I tried used a similar bread/bun except that it didn’t have any pumpkin seeds, just black and white sesame that still gave a nice flavour / taste to the bread. This was the Honey Mustard Chicken & Apple Slaw sandwich, which I assume should be chicken marinated in honey mustard dressing served with a salad of apple slaw.
I also liked this a lot, even though it felt a little more sinful than the first, because of the dressing used with the chicken. But it’s more fulfilling in a way also because of the chicken. The addition of shredded carrot and purple cabbage also made it nicer with the added crunchiness but at the same time also caused a greater deal of mess in eating because the shredded veggies tended to just fall out.Third try – Wholesome Tuna & Cheese sandwich. It was the third because it’s tuna mayonnaise, i.e. fattening (mayonnaise alert!) although the bun was a lure. Also pretty satisfying but perhaps they could go a little easier on the cheese. There was too much of it that at one point, I decided to just scrape out some of the cheese. But overall, I also enjoyed it. 🙂
Closer look.  The fourth and last item I’ve tried is the Buttermilk Chicken & Egg Croissant. Croissants are amazing pastries but also because of the amount of butter that’s used (I don’t know what else) that make such a small and fluffy pastry so calorie-dense. Once in a while, it’s nice to indulge though. Which is why this is the last item I tried, after exhausting all the other options based on the bread choice. Haha.

There was another reason – hard-boiled eggs. I don’t mind yolks sometimes, but usually only when they come in liquid / molten form such as sunny-side-ups or poached eggs. Hard-boiled eggs are not my kind of thing even if I need that protein for recovery. So while I ate this, I had to deconstruct it (not unusual for me with sandwiches though) and dig out the yolks. :p
Chicken used had a pretty good flavour. It’s supposed to be buttermilk? But I don’t know how that is meant to taste like, or perhaps the flavour is tangy red pesto as described in Starbucks’ website. It has a peppery taste that together with the croissant gave the overall sandwich a rather strong taste and perhaps that is also how it fills you up since croissant in itself doesn’t really make one feel full (at least not for me) or it doesn’t keep you full for too long.  A close-up of the insides, with the generous filling spilling out! This is also what makes the new sandwiches more appealing and value-for-money! Previously, at the kind of prices they charge their sandwiches for, I would be better off paying the same (or sometimes less) for sandwiches from other shops that make them fresh with fresher and more generous ingredients! Now they are at least a more worthy competitor for some other places, though of course we can’t compare SB with shops that specialise in sandwiches!

On the whole, still a great effort and I don’t mind having some of these sandwiches again! With a promotion set meal price of $9.90 during 11.30 am to 3 pm for a sandwich and a hot/iced coffee or tea, it’s quite a good deal (for SB anyway) since the sandwiches already cost about $8.90 on their own.

Christmas Eve.

Spent Christmas eve and part of Christmas day in Hong Kong. I shall just let the pictures do the talking, most of it anyway, because I am lazy to write. 🙂

Met the cousin early for local breakfast near his apartment. This is the Hong Kong milk tea, which I find is so much nicer than what we have locally, i.e. teh-c.

The standard breakfast fare, to me at least – soupy instant noodles topped with some ingredients like pork / chicken chop, sausages, eggs, or the likes. Or maybe everything! Order a noodle and add-on the other stuff you fancy, sunny-side up, sausages…
Yummy.
Problem with Hong Kong’s local cafes is that they don’t usually do bread the way I like it. Mostly, when I order a sandwich or toast, it is just 2 slices of plain white bread that is of the soft variety, totally not how I like my bread to be. Even when this is toasted, at an additional charge (!), it still doesn’t cut anywhere close. The smooth, creamy scrambled eggs help to make it a bit better though, but then the processed meat in the form of ham probably isn’t too great an idea.
After we had the milk tea and the breakfast, we still went for the next round of caffeine at a hole-in-the-wall cafe near Jaffe Street.  After parting with my cousin, I went to meet my friend and we decided to check out this soft-serve that was highly-recommended by the cousin. I really love this, because the matcha flavour was very distinctive and strong! And best of all is that it doesn’t feel like it’s too sweet. They have a few outlets, but we went to the one at Fashion Walk. There’s one in the basement food hall of SOGO at Causeway Bay too and if I’m not wrong, near City Super in Harbour City in TST.
Went to meet another friend thereafter, who halted her gym-time to accompany me for the Christmas eve afternoon. We popped into a random cafe where she decided to have lunch, and I ordered a salad which was a total disappointment. Where’s the ‘salad’? This looks more like dessert than salad.  It’s actually a few slices of apple cooked in some sauce I presume, topped with egg mayo and a sprinkling of some powder (don’t ask me what because I forgot), plus 2 sticks of buttered toast, very lightly-toasted might I add. I was then busy scraping away the egg yolk and mayo obviously, and left it in a mess.
After the decidedly-unsatisfying meal (for me at least), we proceeded to Lee Gardens’ Starbucks, which was also very crowded despite that the mall was almost devoid of other customers. Either everyone is out and about in their last minute rush for Christmas gifts, or this mall is just too high-classed to see many patrons. We dropped by the supermarket at Hysan Place first though, to get ourselves a pot of yogurt each to go with our coffee (my third caffeine for the day). Love the variety that is available overseas but again, I’d think this is from the vantage point of being a foreigner and seeing things with a fresh pair of eyes.  Last year, when I met my friend in Hong Kong, we ordered the Christmas orange cranberry loaf cake/bread and since they have it this year again, we ordered it again! We enjoyed this because it’s more bread than cake, meaning it’s a bit drier and crumblier,and not so oily to boot. Wished they had this on our local menu too but so far, it has only made an appearance in 2014.
Headed back for a short run at the gym thereafter, before heading out for Christmas eve dinner. We settled in at an Italian eatery in SOHO, which somehow felt like we were obligated to dine at, because the host-cum-owner was rather pushy and we felt bad walking away after reading the menu. It was probably a wrong choice, because we ended up not ordering the huge Christmas meal that came with 6 courses per person (at quite a reasonable price actually). We didn’t think we could have finished all that food so we opted for a-la-carte, which to them meant ‘budget menu’, and we were being treated as ‘budget customers’. They changed the table setting, removing the napkin and replacing it with a paper serviette!? It wasn’t even like the eatery was some fine-dining place because each table was within an elbow’s width away, even if you are paying for the so-called Christmas set menu. Bleah. What a big downer.

The food was pretty decent though, to be fair to them. It’s just that service sucks, or rather it’s dependent on how much you pay for your food.
  After dinner, we took a short walk to PMQ, where most shops were already packing up. But they had pretty interesting Christmas decor, including a holographic Christmas tree instead of a real physical tree.
  And finished off the evening with dessert near our hotel, sweet soup with lotus seeds! 🙂

It’s all about the food

It probably does or not make sense, that although I visit Hong Kong fairly frequently, counting once or twice per year, there is a habit that I realised I have formed. When I enjoy something, I will have this tendency to revisit the eatery whenever I go to Hong Kong. The rationale is that since I like it, it is something that draws me back, right? Yet, in a city like Hong Kong, not unlike Singapore, where possibly many new eateries open all the time, I should be checking out new places, or at least recommended places that I have not yet tried. This was the case with say, Yee Shun Milk Company, which I used to visit without fail in the past, just to have their steamed milk pudding. Another one was Mak’s Noodles, and I always go to the outlet at Wellington Street, because it is always not crowded whenever I pop in and I find the staff relatively friendly (because they are not busy then I guess). I have since stopped going to Yee Shun or Mak’s, because I think I have had enough of the milk pudding which I find a tad too sweet for my liking now, and because I don’t generally eat much rice/noodles these days… going to Mak’s just for the wanton is not really that worth it for me.

But one place that I still go to without fail, at least for the last few times, would be Lin Heung. One of go-to dim sum places in the past was Luk Yu Tea House along Stanley Street. They are more tourist-friendly and probably pricier too (I can’t be totally sure) because of its restaurant-style setting. It’s much like our dim sum places in Singapore like Crystal Jade or the likes where you sit down and someone comes to take your order, which you do using a sheet of paper that only has Chinese names of the dim sum dishes. Each time I go, I would order the same wrong dish that I end up not eating, because I kept thinking that is something I want, but it turns out to be some innards dish that I don’t dare to eat. Haha!

Once, on a trip to Hong Kong, my friend and I checked out Lin Heung Tea House on Wellington Street, and I was quite sold. It’s so full of local flavour, even if there are many tourists who are easily recognisable, some even coming with their luggage cases in tow. You can see the uncles and aunties out for their morning yum cha, toting newspapers while sipping on a cup of Chinese tea, slowing taking bites of their ma-lai-gao or the lotus-leaf-wrapped glutinous rice.

The last few times, I have gone to Lin Heung at Sheung Wan instead, and it was on of the past trips that I discovered the goodness of their egg tarts! These are the flak-crust variety that are what I would consider bite-size. It’s not as custard-y or eggy like how some egg tarts tend to be, and its size ensures that you don’t get overwhelmed by it!My friend ordered this deep-fried yam pastry that was also pretty delicious. I like all these yams, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and the likes, even if I seldom or rather, never order this because yes it is deep-fried and usually the other people I go to Lin Heung with don’t seem to be fond of ordering deep-fried items too. But its crispiness was assured since they are only pushed out on the carts when they are ready! That’s why I am always on a hit-or-miss expedition of sorts to Lin Heung because there are times when I go there and don’t get to have anything that I really wanted!
Char siew bun, which again, is something that is seldom on my order list because it’s too much carbo that fills up precious stomach space. Char siew in Hong Kong really tastes quite different from Singapore, even in the buns. Theirs is juicier, I think, and sweeter. Which reminds me of how sweet the char siew bun of Tin Ho Wan is.  And this item always attracts almost all the patrons to the push carts once the auntie exits from the kitchen! Everyone would just rush to the cart and when they realise it’s siew mai, somehow the steamers just get snapped up really fast in record time!
On the whole, I don’t find Lin Heung to be extremely affordable or cheap, and the dim sum isn’t intricate, in the sense that they don’t look exquisite. But then again, dim sum to me, is about the taste, which I think is decent, and the experience, which is quite fun! Imagine me chasing after the aunties grabbing at the dim sum steamers while clutching the order sheet in my hand, jostling with tourists and locals to make sure I get the siew mai. That’s quite a rare sight I would think.

That same day, or rather morning, we decided to pop into Tsui Wah, the newly-renovated and reopened outlet along Wellington Street. It’s definitely newer and cleaner now as compared to its previous self, but I think service wise, it seems to have slipped loads. I have only been to this Tsui Wah a few times but they always are quite prompt, but this time, we had to wait really long just to get our orders taken, and then for the drinks and food to be served (even though we only ordered the condensed milk bun), it took forever as well. Needless to say, the bill took its time to come too.
Their famed condensed milk bun on wholegrain bread which I thought was quite cool (and healthy perhaps?) but my friend lamented the measly amount of butter and condensed milk spread on the bread, which was supposed to be the main attraction of the bun!

I ordered a yuan-yang that I thought was not too bad and had both the flavours of tea and coffee evident. It probably boils down to individual preferences as my friend prefers that the coffee flavour is not so strong that it seemed to overpower the tea taste. Perhaps it’s because I am generally a coffee drinker so I would prefer that the coffee taste is distinct.
Close-up of the bun that disappointed my friend. LOL.  So then we went over to Kowloon for some shopping after all that eating, and I think Kowloon and me just don’t gel. I get a headache while being in Kowloon, even though Hong Kong is on the whole, crowded everywhere. After a couple of hours, I just needed to find a place to chill and relax, but then again cafes are pretty scarce in this part of Hong Kong, and we hard a really hard time trying to find seats! Finally, we managed to snag a seat each at this small but open Starbucks at Harbour City, and ordered a Chestnut cheesecake for our tea/coffee break. 🙂

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.

Starbucks Red Velvet muffin

Back in the business of eating muffins, I finally got to try the Red Velvet with Mango Passion muffin from Starbucks. This is one of the “new” offerings they had, introduced sometime ago. I can’t remember when, but this was introduced in a new array of muffins they had (then), together with the Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese, the Chocolate with Cookie Crumble, the Chicken Floss and the Blueberry Crumble muffins. I don’t think I have tried the Blueberry Crumble, which I suspect shouldn’t be too different from their original Blueberry muffin, but all the rest I have tried, even the Chicken Floss!

My friend mentioned that this wasn’t anything special, but I decided to give it a go anyway because I have tried the Carrot Cake before and found it to be a tad sweet. So this is the Red Velvet! I am not any fan of Red Velvet, and where cakes are concerned, I have only tried Red Velvet cakes probably less than 5 times in my entire life.Somehow, it never really appealed to me, because I keep thinking it will be very sweet but it shouldn’t be, if it’s vegetable-colouring they are using to dye the flour/batter? I’m not sure but that is the impression that I get. Hehehe.

So, as I poked into the muffin, I actually got a surprise. The top of the muffin, contrary to my usual enjoyment of muffins, isn’t what I like. It has those frosted sugary bits sprinkled on the muffin top that I don’t like. But from within the core, with just a little bit of it inside, was an oozy, Mango Passion filling! Well, it kind of looks like salted egg core of the “liu sha bao” doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t and to be honest, I am not really a big fan of that custard bun which many people love.
I really like the Mango Passion molten core of the muffin because it’s tangy taste provided a great contrast to the sweetness of the muffin, which really wasn’t so sweet beyond my tolerable barometer. So this was still a score for me! Except those sugary bits.