Santa Claus comes to Tea in Beijing!

My Festive challenge : Find 3 fantastic Christmas Inspired Afternoon Tea’s in Asia. December festivities have taken me to the Great Wall of China, the city that never sleeps – Hong Kong and Singapore for a Singapore Slinging Christmas.  Starting the advent month with an exhilarating trip to Beijing with temperatures of -4C, a cosy and warm Festive Afternoon Tea @ China World Hotel Lobby Lounge felt Christmas fitting! Reviews by City Weekend rated China World Hotel as the leader for Afternoon Tea in Beijing. With limited time in Beijing I took on their ranking and paid a visit to the busy China World Trade Centre. The hotel was decked out in full Christmas cheer and had me excited with anticipation of what an afternoon tea service would be like in China.

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The Christmas Afternoon Tea set is priced at RMB328 +15% service charge and includes two teas, coffees or hot chocolate. Tea selection is broken down into three categories with multiple options available in each selection: Classic Tea Selection (English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Assam and Sencha), Chinese Tea Selection (Jasmine, Pu’er, Chrysanthemum) and Herbal Tea Selection (Peppermint and Chamomile). For an added indulgent there is also a Champagne Afternoon Tea option available which I took along with my option for a hot chocolate.

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The table setting was quite vintage with white lacy dollies and striped armchairs. The hot chocolate was divine and rich, I had two cups! The Perrier Jouet Brut was accompanied with the most moorish sweet popcorn, I just couldn’t stop!

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The Tea Stand was presented in true festive glitter…it just brought the biggest ‘big kid’ smile to my face…I knew this was going to be a tasty tea!

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Chinese snacks were next in line for demolishment. The BBQ Pork Pao was decent not like the delicious ones you get in Hong Kong or Singapore but still fun to have at tea time. IMG_0041

The scones were good and the variation of a chocolate scone was interesting but the real highlight was the  Clotted cream, one of the best Tea condiments I have tried in Asia. The egg custard tartlet was also a great alternative option but lacked a little on taste.

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The finger sandwiches were a good palate cleanser to make way for more sweet pastries, of which the Cinnamon Stars were a favourite.

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The China World Hotel is one of the few afternoon tea events in Beijing that requires a reservation to ensure a seat at their fantastic Tea.

Top Tip: I would highly recommend doing a bit research before heading to Beijing, the Internet and language can be a bit of an obstacle if you are not mandarin speakers. City Weekend was a helpful guide for dining and restaurant reviews.

Lost in Translation Afternoon Tea @ The Park Hyatt Tokyo

Courtesy of the “Lost in Translation” movie The Park Hyatt in Tokyo has become a stomping ground for tourists to stop by for a cocktail @ The New York bar on the 52nd floor. The bar hosted the famous scenes between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansen and has admiring skyline views of Tokyo City – worthy for a tipple pit stop. 

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The New York Bar opens for the evening and gives an opportunity to see the sun set over the city. The food and drink is suitably New York inspired with great american cocktail options, I opted for a Pisco Sour which was fresh and frothy!

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We took the opportunity to dine at the Park Hyatt’s Peak Lounge for Afternoon Tea in their Skylit Bamboo Garden so that we could indulge in great natural light views of the city. In our time in Tokyo the Park Hyatt’s views were the best we had seen – due to its location being a bit afar from the action it gave a wide city view.

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The atrium had a wonderful spaccey feel due to its large glassed windsows and high covex ceilings. The decor was a little underwelming but the views made up for it.

The Afternoon Tea menu provided a vast tea selection, ranging from the traditional to herbal and japanese varieties. There was also an option to have a completely “Sweet Afternoon Tea” however I have chose the Traditonal “Afternoon Tea” to sample their savoury bites. Both menus were priced the same at 3800Yen.

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After selecting our teas the finger sandwiches soon followed. The Japanese have a way of making things very cute and precise, and this tea was no different! The sandwiches were some of the smallest and cutest I have ever seen…..who knew you could make white sliced bread thumb size?!

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The tea settings were pretty and the cutlery – simple and white elegant.

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Scones came out warm with a variety of Praline & Plain. This was the first Praline scone i have ever tasted and I loved the caramelised flavour it added to the crumbly scone. The condiments were good but portions of the clotted cream required me to request for an encore.

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Just when I thought it was time to start on the sweet pastries we were surprised with a variety of savoury canapés….

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Once we had tasted all the little additions we started devouring our sweets. Favourites were the chocolate & cassis mousse and macaroons. Alike to the savoury round, additional sweet treats were presented and the sweet square jellies were moorish!

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All in all the Park Hyatt tea was a well executed afternoon tea service with fantastic views of the city. The wide variety of treats and extensive brew menu should find something to your fancy. A little refurb on the sofa and a few more flower displays would notch up the deco.

I would highly recommend a cocktail at the New York bar….its famous after afterall!

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#NewNordic Brunch with Noma’s Mads Reflunds

Michelin Starred Chefs congregate for 4xFOURa high end Pop-Up Dining experience in Singapore. “4xFOUR is an exciting concept that brings together the art of gastronomy with the world of visual art. 4 distinctive cuisines by 4 internationally acclaimed chefs, all showcased in a purpose-built Pop-Up Restaurant.”

4XFOUR is showcasing for a 4 week period from 13 November – 7 December 2014. The 22-day event features both brunch and dinner sessions, with brunch sessions featuring a four-course menu with champagne, and dinner sessions offering a more extensive eight-course menu. Tickets are priced from S$168 and are available from 4XFOUR website.

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When I heard Mads Reflunds, co-founder of Noma (which ranks 1st in The World’s 50 best restaurant list by S. Pellegrino & Acqua Panna),  would be cooking in Singapore for the first time I booked my brunch immediately!

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The Pop-up is hosted at the tables of Singapore’s exclusive Temasek Suite at the F1 Pit Building. Specially built as the Prime Minister’s hospitality suite during the Singapore Grand Prix, this private dining room has only been visited by a select few.

The history of Singapore’ s F1 is enamoured over the entrance walls and a real treat to be seen for a first time visitor.

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A novice experience was the pairing of Michelin Star Art Gastronomy and Visual Art. The Visual Art really does add a je ne sais quoi to the dining, its clean, quirky and imaginative in true Northern European style and a truely similar description of the gastromony.

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Brunch was elegantly served on imperial style tables with your personal name place cards awaiting you. The dine-wear was very Scandinavian matching well the chef and ambience. The menu sounded refreshing and fitting for a Sunday Brunch.
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After a little welcoming speech from Mads enlightening his guests with his concept of #NewNordic cuisine and his love for digging up ingredients in forests, we were served up with his clean plates like clockwork. Mads clearly runs an organised kitchen with high standards, each course came out perfectly and exact to one another.

First round was Scallops with Cucumber & Buttermilk Horseradish. Visually bright and artistic and tastefully balanced. A perfect palate cleanser that set the pace for the following fine courses.

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Second course was very fruits of the forest like – Broth of Mushrooms with Egg Yolk & Seaweed, a suitable soothing dish for autumnal season.

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Pork Neck with Mushrooms & Black Garlic arrived as the pleasing meaty main.

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Ending sweetly we did with the fashionable Beetroot. Their doesn’t seem to be a Michelin Star chef who doesn’t love his beets! Mads served Frozen Beets with Yogurt & Rye and we devoured the lot of it.

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I know for sure now that #NewNordic is a cuisine that deserves its international recognition. Its series of raw flavours and ability to remain light yet satisfying gives it a unique place in the top notch global cuisines.

Check out http://www.4xfour.sg you won’t be disappointed.

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L’Eclair High Tea is the way you host a Pop Up!

Singapore’s Pop up events have started to take a real swing! 2014 has seen bespoke Cocktail Bars Popping up all over town with heaps of creativity and award winning mixologists mixing up notorious local flavours with hardcore liquor. Home-ware and boutique fashion markets appear available for browsing nearly weekly and of course interesting Food Pop Ups are stepping out constantly. Being a foodie city that specialises in local street food delicacies, Pop Up Food cartels in Singapore have high expectations upon them and rightly so. I recently dined at a wonderful pop-up cafe conecptulaised by two Singaporean ladies Michelle Looi & Sarah Tan of L’ÉCLAIR. The event is called DINETTE and is held at the Three Years In A Balloon Cafe.

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Dinette is running every weekend from 8-30 November between 1-6pm, serving a High Tea for 2, which showcases their spectacular eclairs and includes some light savoury bites, macaroons and coffee/tea. The ladies were inspired by the fine patisserie they had devoured in Paris and have since been driven to re-create the perfect eclair. After much research and experimentation they have created 8 unique eclair flavours. Their menu had us teased and boy were we pleased when presented with the swirl of mini-eclairs. Top 3 Favourites in taste order – Ispahan (Rose, Lychee, Raspberry), Madagascar Vanilla Bean & Caramelised Pecans and Hazelnut Praline. That said all the eclairs were divine but these 3 were so exceptional for me that I bought a box of eight of them to take away!

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It would be wrong to not mention the savoury offerings L’eclair provided as they were the best high tea savoury bites I have had in Singapore. No question these ladies are giving the hotel establishments a run for their money. I was still thinking about their Chicken & Bacon Basque pie the next morning. The pastry was Very Francais – butter, butter, butter!!  The “Peking Duck” mini sandwiches were peking good and  had me thinking why I had not made them at home before! The pistachio crumbed white bread really showed their ability to go further then the average high tea though. Hats off L’Eclair Ladies!

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Their creativity in this pop-up is dreamy and the flavour concoctions superb. Quite frankly the most stunning looking eclairs I have seen to date! Fear not if you are unable to get a table, it has been a booked event with a waiting list – (that does open up though – so try)! or else L’eclair are going to be at Naiise Xmas Pop-up Store on 6th & 7th Dec, 12-7pm at 72 Dunlop Street! IMG_0048

A Gastro Safari in Japan’s Foodie City – Osaka

Osaka is known as the foodie capital of Japan so do not miss the opportunity to sample its local street foods, most popular ones being Okonomiyaki (frittata) and the famous Takoyaki which literally translates into Octopus (Tako) Fried (Yaki). Takoyaki is basically little round dashi flavoured pancake balls stuffed with pieces of octopus, tempura, green onions and pickled red ginger, they are smothered with mayonnaise, takoyaki sauce (similar to worcester sauce) and sprinkled with fried seaweed & dried bonito flakes. You can expect the texture to be crispy on the outside and gooey in the inside, if you like seafood and have an adventurous tongue then you must try these! Best ones can be found at street vendors, we stumbled upon one under a bridge opposite the Umeda train station for a quick lunch snack. I was comforted when I saw later that evening a long queue of locals in line for a portion Takoyaki – hopefully a sign that is was aunthetic place!

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That said if you are unsure on where to haunt down some good octopus balls I would recommend going to Dottonbori and having a browse around its fluorescent lively streets for some canal side delights. Yes its touristy but if you have limited time and want to get a feeling of Osaka’s love affair with food then Dottonbori will give you a great gastronomic introduction.

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Now for my favourite local find in Osaka. A 7 hour flight. First night in Japan. 11pm. Heizo Chicken. gem.  Forget the questionable exterior, non english speaking staff and limited Japanese menu – my golly this place was so up my alley. Quirky, tasty and above all super friendly. I got a feeling within about 5 mins that we had stumbled upon a local hidden gem that is very popular with mid night cool folks.

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The pictorial menu was kind of helpful –  as in what you saw you got, but what you got was still unclear (in a good way).

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All items ordered were presented in cute disposable banana shaped bamboo ships. I guess this was Japanese Tapas?! Mi gusta! From what I could make out we had; a brie type cheese croquette, japanese keema, a yummy potato salad and a cheese/potato/bacon ball in a creamy tomato salsa. All were delicious and perfect for late munchies!

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The only item we could not eat as we were “dining in” was the Heizo Fried Chicken! Apparently its only for “take-away” – all quite bizarre but I like the odd bit of obscurity! Take-Away diners seemed very chuffed with their big boxes of fried goodness. I reckon its worth coming back for.

The Hunt for Gyoza Morsels

Who doesn’t like sizzling meaty dumplings!? We tried gyoza all over Japan and honestly we didn’t have one bad dumpling, but if I was to rank those dumplings I would in-doubtly give the number one spot to a little corner cafe on the 5th floor of the Umetika dining building.

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The cafe specialised in gyoza with beer – one could say a rather limited menu but I say genius!

We had encore portions and would again and again.

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Digital Lunch

Lunch hosted by an efficient digital member of staff who only spoke in Japanese scripture.

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Again I was very unsure on the ingredients of my order but the digitised diagrams really helped make a decision on what to order. Once I paid the machine and received my token order slip I took a seat at the communal dining table. It had large green furry balls as an interesting centrepiece…..first time for everything….it actually looked quite cool!

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Now what did I order?! I think it was cold soba noodles in a white milky broth with a heaping of some kind of mince meat (maybe pork?) and a sprinkle of sprouts. Light, refreshing and oh so tasty! It came with a pourer of chilli oil which brought out the flavours of the milkly broth. Yum!

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I left Osaka with very flavourful memories. Not enough time to try all its delights but a great insight into its vibrant and fun eating scene. Sweetoothers look out for my dessert safari in Japan coming soon!

The Afternoon Tea Room @ Grand Front Osaka

Now for something quite different – afternoon tea in the centre of Osaka, Japan’s foodie capital – for those more interested in the local delicacies watch out for my next blog on our own Nippon food safari in Osaka.

Located in the new and vast Grand Front Osaka complex in the Umeda area which housed several great dining areas (Umekita cellar and Umekita dining) as well as some off-beat stores and cafes. There is one shop that immediately grabbed my attention, fittingly named Afternoon Tea. This store has both a retail and a cafe side to indulge in some high tea –  eating your cake and shopping concurrently – quite my dream day!

Upon entrance the store is full of tea time goodies which immediately gets you in the mood for a cup of brew and some teatime fancies.

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There is a great diversity of tea-related items including tea towels, mugs, other kitchen related bits and bobs and of course many many different types of teas! After browsing for quite a while I was no longer able to resist and filled my basket with a number of goodies from this wonderful shop.

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One of the highlights of the shopping spree was the superb precision gift wrapping   (which is fantastic in most Japanese stores). They have  seriously nailed all things art, craft and gift wrapping in Japan!

Shopping done. Now time for Tea & Cake!

We went for the traditional afternoon tea set priced at 1,400 yen. For this you get a pot of tea and a choice of 3 types of sweets presented in a beautifully weaved Japanese basket. I went for the traditional scone, an apple strudel and a berry mousse short cake that was the special of the week.

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For those looking for a sweet little tea snack (post lunch) thats not going to stop you from your shopping spree – this is a perfect teatime pit stop!

The scones were a real highlight, warm, crunchy and with a great texture they were wonderful with the jam and the very whipped japanese cream which was to die for! The Apple Pie Cake was buttery and scrummy, the short cake was amazingly light and tasty, I would eat it all again.

We had the Earl Grey tea which was nothing to write home about, I would suggest trying something different, perhaps the matcha green tea next time, and maybe save space for a savoury main course too. Definitely pop in if you love your kitchen home ware!

Also check out their website for more info (in Japanese) or to ogle at the homeware goodies!

http://www.afternoon-tea.net

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Beyond Temples & Geishas – Real Ramen in Kyoto

First visit to Japan, two days in Kyoto, one quest. Authentic Ramen.

Thanks to the travel tips of long term Kyoto resident and Lonely Planet writer Chris Rowthorn we enjoyed some real delights of Kyoto cuisine. Kaiseki being a local haute cuisine his online guide provides some wonderful dining options across Kyoto. For first time visitors I highly recommend checking out his experiences @ http://www.insidekyoto.com

Being a spicy soup fan and having tried Ramen on multiple occasions in Singapore and London I felt a quest to find the best Ramen in Kyoto. I secretly hoped they would be far tastier in Japan. In conclusion, they were. Favourites were the Ramen at Ippudo and Karako.

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Ippudo having had many positive reviews on tripadvisor it took my fancy first in the thirst for spicetastic soup.  Once you manage to find Ippudo on the back streets of Nishiki Market you will enter to a communal table embedded with attractive condiments and pickles to spice up your Ramen.

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A great perk in most eateries in Japan is the visual menus full of pictures of what you might potentially eat. Fear not non-speaking Japanese folks I promise you will leave Japan full in the stomach, we most certainly did!

Ippudo had the plus of an english menu which enabled us to understand where the Ramen’s originated from in Japan which was great.

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Feeling the need for heat I opted for the Ippudo Karaka Ramen which had 5 levels of spiciness to choose from. If you can take the heat I recommend experimenting at level 4 or 5, I didn’t find it overly hot! The Ippudo Karaka Ramen has a classic Shiromaru Pork Soup as its base with a spicy Miso topping mixed with several herbs and spices. It was apparently created in 1989 and has gained a lot of popularity with Spice lovers. Till date I have not slurped on more tender noodles….

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The reviews were worthy and the Ramen really were sublime as were the accompanying gyoza which we ordered double portions of! We also had a side of Hakata Chikara Meshi (The most tender Braised Pork with Rice & Illuminos Pickled Ginger) which went down so fast with my husband that I only got about two bites. If I was to have the privilege of dining again at Ippudo Kyoto I would reorder everything we had plus an additional item of the Shiromuru Special Ramen which is the Ippudo Original a speciality of tonkotso broth served with pork belly and black fungus.

Do note that Ippudo has chains in other countries however I hear they are not all quite as great as the Kyoto joint.

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Being well located in the Temple district north east of Central Kyoto (Okazaki) was one of my favourite finds on our entire trip. Totally understated in its location and decor but so heart-warmingly tasty and welcoming in service I would shoot back to Kyoto just for a luncheon encore.

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As we sat down with about 6 other Japanese men on the busy lunch hour we ordered what they all seemed to be eating, the “Kotteri Noodles Ramen“. We opted for the “meal deal” a bowl of ramen, two pieces of fried chicken and some nibbles from the communal bar!

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The chashu pork slices were super tender and moist with a crumbly texture due to the patient slow cooking of the roast pork. The flavoursome ramen broth and vegetables had quite a refreshing taste to them, quite light to eat which enables you to snack on the mind blowing “Karaage” (boneless fried chicken). Though being on a hunt for the best Ramen this Karaage was an amazing discovery, it was and is the best fried chicken I have ever gnawed on. Crispy, crunchy, spicy, tender, moist and boneless but with all the flavour of what meat on the bone normally brings. I don’t know how they do it but I like it immensely. Amazing.

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Aside from the tips on where to grab a bowl of great Ramen I think its helpful to know that timing is key when planning a meal. Living in Asia has taught me well to avoid the midday rush. Get there 15mins before or you can expect to wait a heck of a time for a table at both these joints and many close at 2pm so don’t be late either. Below are some patient queuers’.

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Aside great Ramen, Kyoto packs a punch of cultural treats – full of beautiful hill risen temples, shrines and the most highly statute Geisha District in Japan. The history of Geisha’s is magnificent and you cannot help but be immersed into the gentle yet complex world that is hidden out of plain sight. Make sure you spend quality time in Gion to take in the atmosphere regardless of whether you spot a Geisha or not its a quaint and beautiful part of Kyoto.

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Other recommendations:

Nishiki Market – a huge buzzing local market know as ‘Kyoto’s Pantry”

Temple Tours – there are tons so pace yourself and do some research ahead to shortlist

Gion – Geisha District and high end Kyoto haute cuisine

Museum of Modern Art is a worthy morning spent and if you are really into art there is the Municipal Museum of Art across the road

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