My Max Brenner’s days are over since I left my NYC apartment in comfy Union Square. In place, I got Hong Kong with all its western dessert-phobic, savoury-loving locals. I traded my chocolate and dairy-heavy diet for Chinese desserts such as mango pomelo and walnut soup. And when I bake, the first thing people say when they taste my cakes is, “Good, it’s not sweet.” But isn’t the point of desserts is to be sweeter than the preceding course?

While I never thought I’d find a replacement for my closest friends in the city nor the Italian thick hot chocolate at Max Brenner’s, about a year ago prior to finding a job here, my cousin introduced me to this dessert place at the Ferry Building called Vero:

This is my favourite Vero drink

Vero is a gem hidden in the Ferry building at Fenwick Pier. It’s rather hard to find if you haven’t been there before and even harder for someone to accidentally ‘discover’ this place without having known about it before due to its rather unusual location. The Ferry building itself is rather removed from the hubbub of the city whilst riding between the boundary line of both Admiralty and Wan Chai. If it’s your first time there, cab it by saying ‘Fenwick Ma Tau’ (canto) and they’ll drop you off ’round the corner at The Quarterdeck. Just backtrack and you’ll find yourself at a dingy lobby with an old elevator. If you feel uncertain and wondering how chocolate, reclamation and ships can co-exist, you’re going the right way. Make your way to the second floor and trust me, if your senses weren’t tickled by your first impression of the building, they definitely will be stimulated when you open the door to see this:


The space is rather long and narrow with windows wrapping around the periphery to give you a gorgeous view of IFC and Kowloon. Yes it does overlook the construction site but it doesn’t really bother me because you can see far and wide.  The interior is rather polished in a raw sense: smooth and cool concrete floors contrast the warmth of the woven chairs and slatted wooden tables. Vibrant lemon yellow chocolate cards punctuate each table to add some colour. Behind the seating area is an art gallery like display; a portfolio of work that Vero has done in collaboration with corporate companies such as The Marco Polo Club (featured photo: I like the map of chocolates. Talk about branding- international flavors for the jet set) and The Mandarin Oriental. I spoke briefly to the manager (this tells you how often I visit or his good memory) the other day who told me that they make all their chocolate in-house in order to control the ingredients in their products. They pride themselves on the purity of their chocolate from the cacao pod and the intensity of a chocolate taste over sweetness. Customers can view the kitchen behind the displays to see how they manufacture, produce and create their own chocolate products. It makes me homesick for New York because it reminds me of Jacques Torres and my undying love for their champagne truffles. Did I mention I’m a sucker for immaculate minimalist packaging?

One of the unique elements about Vero is their ‘chocolate room’ which is kept at 16 degrees celcius to protect their wares that are meant to be enjoyed with the five sense as represented by the boxes of chocolate below:



Yes that’s a life-size chocolate statue and a completely edible flower arrangement, pot included.

Now on to the premium cakes:

Chuao, Venezuela 70%
Dark 70% ganache, flourless biscuit

Taro Earl Grey
Earl grey milk chocolate mousse, taro jelly, gluten free biscuit

Rosemary Cheesecake
Cheesecake, chocolate sparks, rosemary chocolate ganache

White Passion
White chocolate cream, vanilla sponge, homemade passion fruit jam

Orange Crisp
Orange milk chocolate, with a chocolate crisp layer

-$30 HKD/piece (around $4 USD)

I’ve visited Vero… four times with various friends and family and I’ve narrowed down my order to:

Rosemary Cheesecake and 70% iced chocolate.
While Vero is known for their rich,thick hot chocolate (a thin disk of chocolate is placed right over the top so it melts slowly into the cup-pure visual poetry), I prefer their iced one due to the many textural layers. The bottom of the flute is filled with a chocolate sauce that hardens into a paste once the iced liquid goes in- you have to scrape it out with a long parfait spoon. A dollop of whipped cream topped with pop rocks gives this drink a finishing touch. What I like about it is a sense of play- pop rocks hints of childhood nostalgia on a rather sophisticated beverage.  They have several varieties for the hot/iced chocolate as well including mint and raspberry. I’ve tried the white chocolate yogurt iced chocolate but it pales in comparison with their classic (pun not intended). As for the cake, the rosemary cheesecake isn’t sweet at all (the one with the leaf in img below)- you taste the bitterness of the chocolate mixed in with the warm saltiness of the rosemary. I highly recommend this one- it’s what inspired my previous semi-fail birthday cake to Agnes. My friends who I went with a week ago preferred the Orange Crisp which resembles more of an ice cream cake.






As you can see these photos have been taken with several lenses including my wide angle Sigma and prime lens over the course of three visits. The Vero lounge also includes a variety of wine and chocolate pairings (unfortunately as classy as that sounds, I dislike the taste of alcohol save when it’s used to enhance a dessert). It’s the perfect place to get away from the standard ‘cha chan teng’ (HK cafes) where the middle aged waiters constantly ask you to get the bill so they can claim a fresh roster of customers. I enjoy the jazz/lounge music they play while cloud gazing as I slip into a chocolate coma. Recommended for book lovers to find a solitary place to read, female friends to catch up over tea and for guys who want to impress and woe their dates. ;)

I’m going again this weekend to take my aunt there. They gave me a ‘buy one get one free’ hot chocolate.. except I it want iced in this hot Hong Kong weather! However I think I will get the affogato the next time… it looked really good in that martini glass when the waitress passed us by…


I’m late but I’m gonna blog a couple birthdays that passed including my own but first up… Agnes on June 21st!

I got a little greedy with flavors and decided to make my own recipe up using a couple of ones I found floating on the web: Rosemary Olive Oil Cake with a Nutella Frosting. I love blending sophisticated exotic flavors with a kiddy, childish ‘home sweet home’ tastes to make something new but familiar.

Rosemary Olive Oil Cake:

http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/rosemary-olive-oil-cake-recipe.html
The reason why I chose to do rosemary was because I had taken Agnes to a chocolate lounge here in HK and she loved their rosemary cheesecake and I thought that adding some savoury spices would be a more interesting cake than vanilla or plain chocolate. Looking back now, I would prefer a more subtle olive oil flavor and would probably cut it by a half and substitute it with an egg. I used every single drop of that bottle of olive oil featured in the first picture!
The cake itself is pretty healthy: no butter! But since it was meant to be a loaf cake, it was a little too dense for an iced cake. Perhaps I should use a standard pound or sponge cake the next time around and tweak it to add the olive oil into it. I’d also add more  chocolate chunks into the mix to get a little more crunch.

Nutella Frosting:

http://www.mykitchennotes.com/2009/11/banana-cupcakes-with-nutella-frosting.html
I love Nutella- as a kid I would spread a thick layer on a slice of processed white bread and then in the center, add a huge dollop. I would then proceed to eat all the crust first and slowly make my way to the center where I would overcome the mountain of Nutella by sticking the whole morsel into mouth to let all the creamy  chocolate hazelnut explode on my tongue. Pure heaven. If anything, the absence of butter in the cake was canceled out thanks to this butter-heavy frosting.

Just some side captions on the process photos above: I actually made two cakes- one for Agnes and one for Canny’s boyfriend whose birthday was also the 21st. My cake was originally three layers as you can see but when I frosted each and sandwiched them on top of one another. Because of the humidity, the entire thing started to do the Leaning Tower of Pisa and finally the middle layer gave way and broke into two. Initially Canny and I were laughing until our stomachs hurt UNTIL I saw that it crumbled. Anyway, it turned out for the best because two is better than three!

Hey there, you may be wondering where I disappeared on Portfolio of Patisserie for the past three months. Where have I been? I have been failing.

I’m not a professional baker, I’ve not been to culinary school and I certainly have no gift in fine cuisine. I just love exploring new ideas in cake, cookies and sweets. So it’s been incredibly frustrating to be failing every single time. I will post my failures but by the time I bake, decorate and photograph the cake to realize that the taste/texture of the recipe is a little off, I can’t seem to muster enough energy to blog about it. Anyway, here goes:

——————————————————————————————————————————–

Fail 1: Sakura and Green Tea Castella Cake




I bought a box of sakura home from Tsujuki market in Japan but ended up having to throw most of it away because it was startng to rot. This was a failure in part because I was too impatient with the frosting (I don’t even recall what kind it is.. buttercream?) and I should have let it cool down first before frosting a rather overly most and sticky castella cake. I got tired of circles and opted for pyramid forms. Most of all, I wanted to play with color. Punches of pink against cool white with a tranquil green center surprise.

I purchased gold leaf in Japan for an insanely good price:



It’s really funny: when I was in Japan, I asked a salesgirl how to apply gold leaf. Do I need to invest in a tweezer? Her reply: use chopsticks.

Asia for the win.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

Fail 2: Matcha Cheesecake

Laura and I fell in love with the aesthetically pleasing outcome of this cake. I seriously think this recipe, which came from a Japanese cooking site (Laura translated) needs a lot of tweaking but it tasted extremely sour due to heavy amounts of yogurt and sour cream. But the texture and color of the cake is impeccable. As you can see, I added the lace print border around the cake that I got from the Jusco $10 store and it’s the perfect height! The cake knife is also from there too- thought it would look nicer than a fruit knife.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

Fail 3: Matcha Cheesecake (Round 2)

Not soon after Laura left back for Japan, I tweaked the entire cheesecake recipe to contain less sour cream and yogurt and more cream cheese. Anyhow it was better but still not to my expectations. Also the hue changed from emerald green to a duller shade with a brown tinge around the side. The ‘polka dots’ was just an extra touch to my third failure.

Anyway that’s all I can contribute for today. I’ll try to find some time to blog about my long ago birthday (the dessert part!) and Agnes’ birthday cake which was… a semi fail as well. T-T Help! I need a breakthrough!

One of my favourite things about baking in this kitchen is when I can sit in front of the oven with a friend, talking or simply reading magazines while we wait for chemistry to prevail. I can just stretch out my legs and lean my back against the cupboards. It’s so comforting.

Laura and I back in March, reading Japanese baking books and ViVi magazine.

Hahah this picture was seriously too perfect because it pretty much sums up Nara. First it was three rickshaws on the Philosopher’s Path, now it’s three deer.



First and foremost, thank God for Google translate. I couldn’t find the address anywhere in English so I translated this Japanese sweet store’s homepage until I found it after clicking around the site aimlessly! Whoohoo… go Google translate!





Been distracted by other things that as you can see I am doing quite a poor job finishing this collection of posts. My posts are building up so I’m gonna stop talking so much and let the photos speak for themselves. Life goes on. :P

Anyway we took a day trip to Nara land of the (lazy, fat) deer. You can feed deer at the park and I was imagining cute Bambis frolicking on the plains. Sadly there were a lot of scruffy, dirty deer that knew how cute they were and how willing tourists would be to walk up to them without having to get up to get a biscuit or two. Seriously they would not even wander outside of the grass to eat as you can see the from deer craning its neck to get food from Agnes.

We have a knack at finding out exactly where the sweet shops are without any recommendations or maps. Or maybe they just find us. Or maybe Japan is just full of the good stuff.

Tenpyoan is also located in Tokyo and peddles a collection of both traditional Japanese sweets and some with a modern twist. If you visit, you HAVE to try their ice cream which comes in flavors like ‘soy bean flour and brown sugar’ or ‘sweet potato’. We got the ‘mikasa’ (aka dorayaki) ice cream which is mashed up dorayaki mixed in with the cream. Agnes got the chestnut and although I’m not a fan of Mont Blanc THIS WAS AMAZING.

But I think the one item that bowled me over was the green tea cake with a layer of white chocolate cream. I don’t think words can describe the flavour and textural harmony that this cake has in your mouth. The cream is slightly crunchy almost as if like ice cream but not cold while the soft layers of cake are moist and bitter with the matcha inside. We ended up getting another each for the ride home. I would die to get this recipe especially the layer of cream.

http://www.tenpyoan.com/

Off we go from Tokyo on a six hour red eye bus to Kyoto, and for some (laura) to go from sakura chasing to matcha overdrive.
This is the bus we took- kinda hilarious.

Above is the #1 spot to see cherry blossoms which we dubbed the ‘devil tree’. I don’t understand how this even made it to the top ten. The ravens perched on its crooked branches just adds to the Halloween-ness. Okay I’ll stop talking about the pink stuff, on to the green stuff!!!



I would like to introduce you all to my favourite green tea snack/dessert/baked good. It’s only available in Kyoto at department stores such as Daimaru and Takashimaya (although I did spot the store’s cafe at Kyoto Station when I was taking a bus back to Tokyo). The store is called Malebranche and is responsible for this delectable cookie which is composed of two wafer thin biscuits loaded with bitter matcha (they call it ‘OKOICHA langue de chat’)with a slick layer of white chocolate in between. A collaboration between three connoisseurs of tea (Kakuji Kojima), appraiser (Haruhide Morita) and patissier (Yasuhiko Ezaki) gave birth to CHA no KA and one of the reasons why I would trek back to Kyoto. There are three different characters sealed on the surface of the biscuits, I guess, a different signature for each of the collaborators.

Last time my biggest regret was only getting myself a bag of five and a box of ten for relatives (it was sold out in Daimaru this time around! It’s ALWAYS sold out at Daimaru). This time around I purchased a box of 16 for myself, one for my cousin, a box of 10 for other relatives and a bag of 5 for colleagues. I know it was quite selfish but you have to take a look at the packaging which punch suckered me into getting myself a 16-piece box:

Mine all mine…


We were wandering the streets and was SUPPOSED to head to this other matcha sundae place when we got sidetracked by the look of this one (sorry, Laura, next time!). Oku Gallery and Cafe is discreet in its appearance from the outside, resembling a typical house there with only a yellow to pink overhang at the door and a lightbox sign:

Very narrow lobby with their china for sale made by local artist Shojiro Endo:

I really love the first floor dining area where the back wall is sliced in half to let in natural light and to allow customers to enjoy the beautiful mini garden. Lo and behold the interiors of Oku resembles a streamlined, modern cafe of the present. It reminds me of NYC’s MOMA cafeteria and St Mark’s Cha An rolled into one. We had to sit upstairs which was equally as nice with high ceilings and a view of the street:

Oku predominantly serves numerous tea sets that like the architecture/interior, reflects a blend of modern and traditional sweets. The roll comes with traditional Japanese jelly (ok I am in no way an expert on Asian desserts so I won’t hazard a guess). We ended up getting a cheesecake set, a matcha sundae set and a roll cake set. Everything was beautifully presented. I was a little hesitant about the cheesecake at first because the texture in the menu looked dry and crumbly however it yielded a soft, creaminess and definitely was my favourite (not a fan of Azuki or mochi as much). Definitely order a glass of apple juice- it’s delightfully refreshing:


One  of these doesn’t belong….

Nakamura Tokichi is known for seasoning its food, drinks and desserts with green tea. We never got to go to the original cafe however we stopped by a Nakamura stand every night for matcha ice cream prior to taking the train back to Moriyama. Amazing ice cream and if I were to go again, I’d get the hojicha like Agnes!

We also stopped by Lipton’s to get some green tea cake to go….

Many many many thanks to Yuri, our host in Kyoto. I would love to post up pictures of your adorable apartment but that might be a little creepy so I’ll just say to everyone: Yuri has the cutest apartment ever which feels like home! Man there’s such a big difference when you stay in a hotel versus a real home. Everything feels more personal and therefore more warm and inviting. Somehow sleep is better.

Ok so some of the photos aren’t showing again when I preview this page.. I want to kill myself then again trying to upload 35 photos into one entry must be killing WordPress. I can’t be bothered to tweak it now.

http://www.tokichi.jp/english/about/index.php

http://oku-style.com/


What is that I see? Many pairs of eyes staring back at me!

Oh yes, it’s Ghibli time!

My previous visit to Japan the past summer was missing a visit to the Ghibli Studio. Thankfully since I moved to HK, I got to embark on a pilgrimage to see it this time around! We got lost switching trains to Mitaka so whilst we were waiting for the next one to arrive, we ran into this udon/ramen stop for a bowl of curry udon which we devoured in five minutes flat standing at the bar with two minutes to go before the train came. That was our breakfast. Yeye.

WELCOME TO MIYAZAKI WORLD WITH MR ROBOT FROM LAPUTA

This is my boyfrien- I mean my ticket. Exchange the standard ticket for a keepsake film strip from one of Miyazaki’s animations. I just so happened to get one from my favourite film: Howl’s Moving Castle!

Above is the Ghibli’s Straw Hat Cafe (an ode to Sophie’s hat shop?). Unfortunately there was a huge lineup to get in so we decided to skip on it. It’s quite cute isn’t it? My stalker wide angle captures the entire floor! Sorry I haven’t got any pictures of the interior of the Ghibli Studio which doesn’t allow photo taking. It’s really nice inside (though smaller than what I expected)- it resembles a more natural version of Hogwarts.

Anyhow despite the dismal weather, it was quite a lovely opportunity to take photos of the sakura located in the garden next to the studio. Laura read about a patisserie located across the studio from the Chico’s Dessert Tour Guide book so off we went…

Intros.

Me shooting Agnes in the cafe space.

Patisserie du Bois is wedged between two larger buildings right across from the Ghibli so if you ever have the chance to experience a slice of the Miyazaki world, do stop by the cafe for some cake before you head back to the train station. Sorry I can’t find the address in English but as you exit the studio, it’s to your right. This may sound terrible but I forgot exactly what we had (too many desserts, should have written them all down!). From what I recall, mine was a framboise meringue cake and Agnes had a chocolate tart.

So as we wandered back to the train station to meet up with Laura in Harajuku, we passed by a department store and this cake shop caught our eye (note to self: bring blinders to stop self and friend from sidetracking on unnecessary cake ventures). It was housed in the department store that’s right next to Mitaka station; I’m terribly sorry about the vagueness of my directions but Ginza Cozy Corner is actually a chain shop that you can find iat other hotspots such as Shibuya and Shinjuku station. It was really cold and rainy that day so we ended up popping in (again). To be fair, we actually had pork udon after the above patisserie. Yes savoury food comes in intermissions of hot udon noodles:

Talk about a cake explosion. We stood there for a good ten minutes debating what to order. We ended up getting the mille crepe which is a ‘thousand’ layers of crepe sandwiched with cream to make a light and airy dessert. For all New Yorkers I highly recommend going to the originator of this confection at ‘Lady M’. Also got a strawberry shortcake just because it looked too cute.

http://www.cozycorner.co.jp

My apologies for the sporadic, sparse posts…it’s 3am and wordpress has been acting up lately and continues to show ‘?’ whenever I try to upload photos so it’s been highly discouraging when each of my posts contains about 30 photos I have to manually upload. Hopefully all the photos are visible. Anyway, that concludes my Cafe Culture posts! On to the next!!!!

Testing testing,1,2,3.
Dear WordPress, why are you not showing my jpeg collages?! You irk me so. Anyhow apparently my Shibuya Cafe post is not visible to most people, while it works on my macbook and my office computer. Strange. I’ll leave the previous entry and will upload again if it continues to not show up. I guess I will stick with the old format and occasionally make a banner or two. I’m a little disappointed because I love InDesign. Can you see the above banner? Oh well, back to the boring format:

Now we’re off to Osaka and whisked quickly back to Shinjuku, Tokyo. Boutiques go beyond clothing and expand to create the consumer lifestyle through homeware and food. Welcome to Corporate Cafes!

**********************************************************************************************

Calling all girls in Osaka!

I scanned the above page from J-Mag Vivi with an excerpt on the Jill Stuart cafe (as you can see it’s been squashed in my bag). Since my friends are fans of the brand, we decided to stop by the department store to experience a slice of the Jill Stuart life- a life that comes in pale pink and cream stripes:The cafe wraps around a large part of the floor with the seating surrounding the center of the department store. Order at the cashier and find yourself a seat.




The cafe wraps around a large part of the floor with the seating surrounding the center of the department store. Order at the cashier and find yourself a seat. We ordered a berry and mascarpone cream waffle, banana and chocolate waffle and a royal milk tea:

Anyhow the menu is largely made up of waffles, ice cream and various mixed drinks. You’re not really there to experience something original, but tried and true desserts in a pretty environment. It’s safe to say the well-heeled girls that go there go for the brand’s identity and the enticing souvenir shop next door with goodies like these:

The day we arrived back in Tokyo via Osaka (another blistering 8 hour bus ride), we went bleary eyed to the Comme Ca Cafe in Shinjuku which is housed in the Shinjuku Comme Ca Mode store (5th floor). I didn’t take many photographs of the cafe which comes in an austere gray save splashes of vivid-color tablecloths. Images of deities and gods create an ‘other world’ atmosphere.

The majority of the menu consists of tarts and pies. In line with the season, their citrus summer collection is made up of grapefruit, bittersweet chocolate crusts, and slices of oranges. The combinations may sound slightly odd but they were all sold out by the time we got there! We ended up getting a classic chocolate/banana/strawberry tart and an unusual tart that was topped with miniature oranges (if you know the name of the fruit, please share!) which you eat peel and all (after much speculation of sucking the flesh out :P). Each slice is about ¥750-¥850. The orange one was strangely good- eating sugary peels was quite a memorable experience.



Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.