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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Meatless Monday @ Muriel’s Kitchen

My Meatless Monday’s usually involve an attempt at some healthy home-cooking but when in London I use Monday’s to eat my vegetables in the form of sticky desserts! One dessert in particular –  Muriel’s Kitchen’s Famous Carrot & Walnut Cake. Muriel’s Kitchen is an English “no-nonsense” inspired cafe meets restaurant serving healthy plates with locally sourced British ingredients at a reasonable price. The Chef’s change up the menus monthly at their 3 Kitchens (South Kensington, Soho & Leicester Square).  As you walk by their pretty window displays lined up with delectable cakes, salads and savouries you know you have to stop and enter to try some of their mouth-watering “healthy” treats.

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Having dropped into the South Kensington Kitchen several times in the past I took an opportunity when in Soho to give Muriel a visit. The Soho Kitchen is a wonderful large space with a gorgeous shabby chic interior; mosaic tiles, old leather sofas, velvet stools, bird-cage lamps and fun swinging garden chairs.

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We took a cosy seat at the back of the restaurant against the bric-a-brac adorned shed area – see if you can spot me!

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Now for the menu, breakfast is popular as is the all day dining menu which enables you to graze on some sharing plates and those yummy house bakes! We kicked off with an aperitif of British Bubbles and Rose Lemonade….they went down a treat!

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After deciding on our dessert choice we adjourned back to our selection of savoury plates, Gooey Baked Camembert served with Dipping Crostini’s & Cranberry & Cashew Crunch, Butternut Squash, Feta & Spinach Quiche and Super Greens Salad. When I next pop in I will definitely indulge in the Baked Camembert again!

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Now for the Piece de Resistance – The Famous Carrot and Walnut cake! If you are a Carrot Cake Fan then you should try this and stack it up against your favourites. I found it to be light and fluffy as well indulgent and nutty –  I would eat it on most Meatless Mondays should my waistline prohibit! As this was a special Monday I also indulged in their very generously sized Chocolate Bread & Butter Pudding with Custard.

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If I was poping into Muriel’s Kitchen tomorrow I would want to try their Chocolate & Guiness Mini Pint Cake and their Passion Fruit Cake Stack. The Dulche de Leche Brownie and Red Velvet Cupcake sound like the perfect Take-Away too! My advice – go with a large group and  try as much as you can from their dessert menu, its large and catered for all sweet tooth palates!

When in Doubt Eat Cake!

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Marrakesh Madness @ Sandro, Helsinki

Finland is famous for many fun things – Santa Claus, Angry Birds, Finlandia Vodka to name a few….but who knew Helsinki houses several Michelin *** restaurants and many local quaint cafe’s and bars that could keep a Foodie Traveller inspired for a summer break.

Trying the local cuisine is an obvious must and there are many restaurants to choose from but for travellers with limited time I would suggest a couple of laps around the local market in central Helsinki (“Kauppatori”). All things berries are worth a bag, and a snag of a sizzling sausage or Reindeer meatball is a Scandinavian must.

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A personal favourite was the “Lihapiirakka” (or ‘lihis’ for short), sort of a doughnut meets cornish pasty……I had two!!

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For those that want a go at Helsinki’s more alternative scene I would highly recommend a visit to the workers end of Helsinki – (Kallio) and hit up a popping Middle Eastern joint – Sandro! One look at the placemat and you know you want to come back again. The menu fusion is mouth-watering with ingredients sounding super fresh and authentic rich. Spoilt for choice we deliberated for 20 minutes on how much we could try to eat and then lent upon the friendly French waiter to assist upon portion size. Basically the portions are big, order a dish each! Humous and dips are accompanied with each meal so no need to order separates. Your challenge is whether to order from the “Bai Kan to Beirut Street Kitchen” end or ‘Garden of the God’s’.

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Here’s what we ordered… and… what we left.

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Garden of the Gods lost out this time. The Batbout Burgers from Marrakesh and Za’atar Man’Ouche from Beirut were winners. We chose the Confit Duck Batbout Burger and were not at all disappointed (as you can see) – served with Sweet Potato Crisps, Harissa Mayo, Tomato Pesto, Garden Red Onion Salad, Pomegranate & Carrot Yogurt & Hummus. The Za’atar Man’Ouche Merguez were equally as tasty, served with Tabbouleh, Grilled Aubergine, Goat Cheese & Pomegranate Yogurt.  Seriously refreshing and modern Middle Eastern grub at €18 per plate. I can’t wait to go back! We are in dire need in Singapore of creative Middle Eastern restaurants – Chef Enthusiasts please assist in our much required void!

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Sandro’s Sunday brunch has won awards and is considered to be the best in town at the moment so make your reservations in advance for this modern North African fusion feast. They have a wonderful indoor lounge and outdoor terrace for those hanging Scandinavian summer nights when only a tipple will do.

Book here – http://sandro.fi  

Making a trip to Helsinki soon? A couple of other worthy pit stops:

Marimekko homeware and clothing – https://www.marimekko.com

Fazer Cafe – Finnish Chocoholics & Moomin Cupcakes

Iittala – glasswear & tablewear – https://www.iittala.com/home

Cafe Kukko – Coffee & Cake with sea views

One Stop Shop – Stockmann’s Department Store and Helsinki Design District

Boulevard Social – sharing plates great for lunch or dinner

Helsinki Senate Square

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Ham Yard Hotel – To Tea or Not to Tea?

My London Afternoon Tea Safari broke a new record,  4 afternoon teas in 6 days. The last Tea Date took me to the newest Firmdale group opening – The Ham Yard Hotel in Soho.  The Ham Yard is defiantly one of their most flamboyant, owned by Tim and Kit Kemp with their beautiful british interiors designed by Kit. The Ham Yard describes itself as a boutique village with the hotel revolving around a tree-filled garden square. Guests are are not only spoilt in their beautifully designed bedrooms (91 rooms) but also by the array of communal areas, shops and skyline views of London from their unique rooftop bar.

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Floors of colourful glittery art and luxe aesthetics make you want to explore every room, and rooms of interest are a plenty. A quick whizz around the hotel is definitely worth it before you cosy up to your scones. The Library is a particular British beauty as was the quirky basement private bar and dining rooms. I couldn’t help myself from continually taking snaps of trinkets of art dispersed all over the hotel. Her Majesty also had her special place!

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The route to the gorgeous basement bar was guided by walls of vibrant colour, eclectic fabrics and strokes of fun pop art. It was an enjoyable four floor walk.

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Now for the private bar and dining rooms, what gorgeousness for an exclusive party. Situated next to a “wedding chapel”, “The Croc” 1950’s bowling alley and private theatre, I would assume many great PR parties are to be hosted at the Ham Yard.

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Though my party was a tea party I was neither disappointed with the beauty of the adjourning main floor bar and restaurant. Before my tea was served I took a moment to have a tipple and meet the friendly cocktail makers for a glass of Cherry Pie! I would recommend their freshly made aperitifs but get there before the Soho herds come in at 7pm, or on a warm day get a seat in the outdoor courtyard.

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Afternoon Tea was hosted by an adorable waiter who showed me the way to the pretty conservatory lounge. Modern taupe and grey macerated the walls and wooden ornaments filled the gaps.

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The menu for the Afternoon tea was flexible in that you could choose whether you desire to have the set tea menu or opt and pay for only tea addition items.  So great if you are not a sweet tooth as you can stock up on all savoury or great if you only want scones!

I opted for the set Afternoon Tea (that changes weekly) for a very reasonable 18pp. The Peppermint Tea came highly recommended so I took it and agree it was one of the better ones I have had. My tricky choice came with the bubbles –  the selection is divine and I upgraded with a smooth pink glass of Roger Pouillion Rose de Maceration Brut 1er Cru. I would again, and again!

The smiles were all out when the purple multilayered plates of savoury rolls and sweet cream morsels arrived. Particular favourites were the Chorizo Sausage Rolls and Pulled Duck Sliders. The scones were good and better then many others I have tried at other London Hotel establishments,  but their sweet green pistachio and blueberry profiterole was a master gem of the sweet items for me.

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Considering the beautiful setting, great service and tasty tea treats I would highly recommend the Ham Yard’s extremely well priced tea service. The hotel’s decor is worth the visit in itself and I would definitely drop in again for an aperitif, scone or nightcap! A gem in Soho.

Check out the Ham Yard Village……@ https://www.firmdalehotels.com/hotels/london/ham-yard-hotel/

 

 

To Tea or Not To Tea – The Penultimate Round

Before the summer escapes us, why not dose up on all things summery! 

The Intercontinental London Westminster promises to take you back to childhood memories of a day at the seaside with their British Summer Holiday afternoon tea, available from 1st July – 31st August 2014 for £37.50 per person, including free pouring Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne.

Drawn to novelty themes and Brighton Beach, “The British Summer Holiday” felt worthy a try on my tea safari around London –  and who can resist an offer of free pouring Champagne on a summers day!

The Intercontinental is well situated across St James Park tube station and a great spot if you are in the vicinity of Westminster. The hotel is as one would hope in the area, professional, organised and elegantly furnished. Greeted by a very friendly and helpful bowler-hatted doorman I was led straight to the fresh furnished tea lounge.

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The lounge is spacious allowing friends to enjoy uncivilised conversation without neighbours eavesdropping. Decorated with modern sofas and high stem brightly flowers the lounge exceeded my expectations.The service however did not. Being the first to arrive I requested to choose our table but was given a flat no with no explanation as to why. Still bemuses me as the room never filled to its full capacity even upon our departure 3 hours later.

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The service continued to be professional but lacking in warmth, but it is the city, and warm and friendly don’t always tend to be part and parcel of its horticulture. Oh well, you can’t have it all but you can drink free flow bubbles. Silver Lining!

Now for their menu, “The British Summer Holiday Afternoon Tea begins with a Picnic Treat of Miniature Pork Pie with homemade Piccalilli and a Prawn Cocktail shot, followed by a selection of Finger Sandwiches that include classic summer favourites of egg and cress, cucumber and mint, smoked salmon and coronation chicken”. This can also be adapted for those with dietary requirements, including gluten free, pork free and vegetarian options.  I opted for the menu as it stands and had friends opt for the vegetation alterations. On conclusion of the savory feast, the vegetarians seemed most gratified – The green based quiche won them over and my pork pie was not able to tie.

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The Scones were a tad unmemorable but their selection of adjourning condiments stuck to mind – offers of both Marmalade and a Strawberry and Yoghurt variety with delicious Lemon Curd, Strawberry Jam and Clotted Cream. Don’t stuff here as  “just before the tide comes in, the sweet selection arrives in the form of The Beach – a fanciful array of a seaside fun, complete with Chocolate Fudge Beach Huts, Cherry Cheesecake Bucket and Spades, Peach Mousse Sandcastles, Toffee and Chocolate Wheels and Jivara Chocolate Cones all of which sit on almond sand.”

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All elements of the Beach including the crumble sand were delicious and had you wanting more, especially the spongy chocolate beach huts! A special pink lemonade was served up at the Beach and was a fun little surprise to round off the tea.

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With a week of August to go I would recommend the Intercontinental Westminster for their Brightly British Summer Afternoon Tea. The Beach being the highlight with bubbles a plenty! Book before the 31st August for a Summer Seaside Celebration.

http://westminster.intercontinental.com/afternoon-tea.html

To Tea or Not To Tea

Another day, another scone. My second London tea-themed experience took me to my favourite Drawing rooms within the beautiful and quaint boutique – Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington.

Before I reveal the delicious details of their Afternoon Tea I have to admit I love the Ampersand Hotel and bias happens to creep for me, but for all good reason. After my 6th visit in 12 months I still say its chic, modern and easy to enjoy. That said I am not alone in my opinion – I have taken and recommended many friends to try the Ampersand whether for tea, lunch or dinner or even a night cap and to date all have enjoyed its boutique ambience and personal touch service. Given that the hotel opened in 2012 it remains to hold a new feel upon entering with a gorgeous fresh interior.

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There are plenty of places that serve afternoon tea in London but it pleasures me when I find a place like the Ampersand that is more off the beaten track and yet low on the pretentious pretence that many London establishments hold.  The Drawing rooms relaxed “french finess meets british style” gets you cosy quickly. For me an ideal spot for a pot of tea and girl time gossip.

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Their Afternoon Tea theme alternates every few months inspired by current London events. A long running one is their Science Afternoon Tea – super fun, creative and totally delicious. I really recommend trying it.

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This summer has had three other fun themes inspired by Wimbledon, the Chelsea Flower show and the BBC Proms. A friend of mine tried the Chelsea Flower show tea and voila! Looks pretty divine…..

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The Musical afternoon tea is their current running theme and to my delight I got to try out their musical inspired sweet treats @32.50 pp and 44.50pp with a glass of bubbles.

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The tartines (french open sandwiches) and gougeres (savoury profiteroles) are more then moorish and available with all of their afternoon tea selections. The team are very flexible and invite you to switch and swatch whatever fillings you prefer more of. So great if you are a vegetarian or like me want more of the yummy coronation chicken tartines!

The white chocolate scones really are one of the best in town. Even after my recent scout this month I still think the Ampersand have mastered these beige boys! Worked perfectly with my pot of peppermint tea.

Now for the sweet musical treats, for me the highlight was the passionfruit coulis mousse and salted caramel macaroon. I’m not an avid fan of macaroons usually but these turquoise ones had me wanting more. The cello  cookie, grand piano cake and raspberry mousse cake were all delightful and not too heavy to finish!

The Ampersand team really made the experience a special one. Their friendly Head Chef Chris Golding made a point to escape from his hot kitchen to welcome us and gave us an opportunity to take a tour of where the magic is created. He also provided some extra cakes and brownies on the house for my friends who couldn’t eat the raspberry cake with gelatine in them. Super kind!

Chris introduced his Head Pastry Chef Ji Sun Shin who was busy creating the next batch of delicious cakes.

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Chris also heads up the menu at Apero the main dining restaurant & bar at the Ampersand; its worth checking out for lunch, dinner or like me for cocktails and bites. The menu is always interesting and his selection of house breads such as the flower pot and beetroot buns for the UnBeetable burgers are yum! He’s such a beetroot believer he has one tattooed on his arm! Also, the squid scotch egg is a must – my favourite battered egg to date!

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Another option is to have evening drinks in the Drawing rooms. I have enjoyed their canapés and champagne and found it to be a charming way to catch up with a group before the night begins.

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All in all the Ampersand is an elegant little find that I recommend for any time of day. Their afternoon tea is consistently inspiring and the Drawing rooms a charming cocoon in busy South Kensington. “Brush off your glad rags and try out their Fashion Afternoon Tea” in September and make sure you have a potter around the corners of the hotel and you will find all sorts of character and quirk –  fancy a game of ping pong or vino party….you’ve found a great place!

IMG_5552Find our more at http://www.ampersandhotel.com

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