Whew! I’m finally done writing this. It took me three evenings to compile, edit and write this one entry! Get ready for some image-heavy review/recipe. And get ready as I stuff this entry with a lot of cheesy puns. I actually, sad to say, chuckle as I write them.
I thank my Chinese-reading cousin for introducing me to this upstairs cafe called ‘Hit the Road’ located in Causeway Bay. Upstairs cafes are popular here in HK due to lack of space and astronomical rental prices of pedestrian level units. From what I gather, they predominantly target the youth who want a place to hang out, have a few drinks and snacks, play board games and chat without being hurried/driven out like a typical ‘cha chan teng’ (HK local cafes where the old women start asking you if you want the bill when you’re about 3/4 through your meal and persistently ask until you finally consent).
Hit the Road is an upstairs cafe located in Causeway Bay with the charm of a Korean drama (the happy ones that is). Painted in antique white, every edge is highlighted in black to give the interiors a cartoon, graphic effect. ‘Staircase walls’ act as dividers between the various tables. The seating is spacious with few tables and a bar area which faces the cupboards/kitchen area where the concoctions are prepared. The furniture, polka dotted couches, sailboat-print armchairs and cushiony backyard chaises are clustered around the periphery with tilted windows overlooking office buildings.
The beauty (and I am speaking pure aesthetics right now) lies in the details that are seen in every nook and cranny. Tin Tin and his dog are perched along the ledge divider where a white board is suspended above that serves as a TV through the projector that broadcasts old black and white films. Along the window ledge, camel stuffed animals, Miffy potted plants and miniature whitewashed lanterns rest next to the customers (interestingly enough, the cottage-cuteness of these are juxtaposed by the pop culture toys such as Spongebob and ET) . Both magazines and books are available for perusal as you enjoy a fresh cup of joe. An austere canopy of snowflakes in the same linear aesthetic as the interiors overlook the customers and the walls are punctuated with text in a hand painted script font that read ‘Sweets’ or ‘Cakes.’
If I were to comment on anything, the cottage-country kitsch of this cafe has its charm and a must for anyone who loves fairy tale Korean chick flicks movies like ‘The Naked Kitchen’ or ‘Antique Bakery’. The decor is definitely geared towards girls and reminds me of many neighbourhood cafes in Korea, but you’ll see an equal number of guys trying to impress their girlfriends by wooing them with cute interiors and sweet treats. Not a bad idea.
Perhaps I should start speaking about the food.
We booked a table for 7pm (that’s when they open for dinner). I recommend reserving as this is a new establishment and when I first tried to get in with my family, they didn’t even look at us because they were so busy. Turnover is slow due to the social nature of an upstairs cafe and the sparse seating. To make it comfortable, the tables are quite far apart thus the place is busy practically every night.
I can only speak for dinner: Hit the Road offers set dinners that include a soup, tea/coffee and main course. We ordered a slew of desserts after. Appetizer was a cream-based soup served in a large mug and wooden spoon to my mom’s delight because if it came in a bowl, we’d have to bend over the low tables to slurp. Now, we could simply hold it by the handle and eat away without hunching over. For savouries, my mom ordered a spicy cinnamon pork leg that came with fries and salad. The dish itself was extremely dry because they literally give you a few drumsticks. My friend had clams in pasta with tomato sauce. According to her it was really good. I had chicken with a cream sauce base pasta. Mine was quite delicious- the pasta was perfectly al dente and the chicken was thick but tender (my biggest beef with chicken is when it’s dry and thick) and the sauce to spaghetti ratio was right without making the meal too heavy.
Add $9/$16 for a drink upgrade.
Add $20/$25 for a dessert.
Now the fun part. Desserts we shared: apple crumble, earl gray cheesecake and molten chocolate cake. The first was somewhat forgettable: our American palate wants a scoop of vanilla ice cream to complement the heat of the crumble. The earl grey cheesecake had the fragrance and taste of tea which I really liked although perhaps it could have been a little less dense. On to the last dish….
According to Open Rice, the latter was considered by some, the most amazing chocolate lava cake they had ever tasted. Now although molten chocolate heart cakes are extremely popular in Asian fusion restaurants, I seldom order it because:
1. It’s a classic, therefore not really exciting. I like trying new desserts and new ideas. New flavors.
2. Since it is a classic, it should be made properly: the shell should be a little crunchy but when you sink your teeth into it, the exterior should quickly give away to to the warmth of the inside that overflows outwards. Like the human heart, the beauty of this cake is, in essence, its vulnerability. It should have a tough exterior, able to withstanding anything, but once acquainted, you perceive its fragility. Oh yes, dessert can be purely philosophical. Anyhow, I’ve had my share of bad molten chocolate cakes to realize, if I am to eat dessert, I want something new that’s been badly done rather than something badly done that I have certain expectations for because I already know what it should taste like.
And that is the reason why I never order melting heart cakes (I use the names interchangeably: molten,lava,melting,heart,cake). Back to Hit the Road, we didn’t see the cake on the menu. Apparently you have to ‘special request’ it (I guess it’s the ‘insiders’ thing. I feel like we’re part of the cake club now!). It was quite well done: rich and thick, it reminded me of my times well spent in NYC’s Max Brenner’s. Although the ‘lava’ wasn’t piping hot, the shell gave away beautifully, spewing out ribbons of dark chocolate. Drool. People hate feeling full after dessert, but I love that sinking feeling as I swallow it. It means the chocolate is rich and thick and positively worth eating.
As I leave the review to go onto the recipe, I will leave these last remaining remarks on Hit the Road:
1. Make reservations
2.If you don’t get seated on the comfy couches, be prepared to hunch over these awkward round tables like we did at the back.
3.Allot two hours for dining. We only saw about three people working there and they wait tables, cook and make the drinks. Anyhow, just enjoy the atmosphere and take it slow. The old woman downstairs won’t like it if you sit and chat with a friend rather than asking for the bill.
4. Request for the melting heart chocolate cake.
No I’m not done yet. Are you still alive? =P
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter: Melting Hearts
Although it’s still two weeks away, consider this an early Valentine’s Day post. I once was looking at a fashion editorial spread with a title that caught my eye: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.
Though the clothes had nothing to do with the title, it was so beautifully put. If only that could be expressed through food: the bittersweetness of love, the fragility of the heart, the intensity of a relationship, the fullness of connection, the surprise of a spark, the mystery of chemistry and the richness of romance.
What could be better than dark chocolate and attempting what I just ate for dessert? For a while now, I’ve actually wanted to dabble in making a molten chocolate cake. This tale is not really of success but more of experimentation. I followed this recipe by flagrante delicia called This is not a Coulant!.
For one thing, I bought the wrong butter. Note to self: NEVER EVER buy Ambassador’s butter ever again (this only really applies to me in HK). It’s crumbly to the point I can’t even whip it to break it down.
Second: I accidentally bought 52% dark chocolate rather than the required 70%. Apparently, only the finest chocolate would do. I guess any heart would require the best (sorry I’m really full of cheese, I mean, chocolate. Time for a fondue party.)
Thirdly, BUTTER your cups (and sprinkle cocoa inside instead of flour which may whiten the cooked cake) so that you won’t have grief when you try to coax the cake out of the womb. Whenever I turned mine over, the fragile tops burst and let out all the goodness that was stored up inside. I’m still unsure about whether you should bake the cake right out of the freezer OR let it sit until it becomes room temperature before putting it in the oven. That is my question out to the void, because I am concerned that the temperature shock of removing the cakes out of the oven, causes the tops to collapse and therefore, allow the insides to come out. How to solve this???
I don’t know but since I had eight cakes, I tested six thus far.
The first two went in right away from freezer to oven. One was okay (it ran a little) and the other, we had to give a blood transfusion because the top cracked. In other words, we literally spooned all the guts back into the cake. Not pro at all. It was really delicious though.
The third time I made it, there was still a chunk of butter inside. Never again will I buy Ambassadors. Presidents or pricey Horizons.
The fourth and fifth time, I left the cakes to set to room temperature before putting them in the oven. I also dropped the temperature by a half and let the oven door open so they could adjust easier to the cooler environment. They set faster but they didn’t flow as nicely as the first two tries.
The sixth one, I did another freezer to oven except tried to take it out earlier to avoid cracking. Unfortunately due to not buttering the sides of the cups, I accidentally pierced the side and tried to save it by sticking it in the oven hoping that it would just ‘heal over’. However while we were taking pictures, the melting heart cake turned to normal chocolate cake with an extremely gooey center. ARGH.
I’d also like to know how to make the insides piping hot without having it form into a solid. I guess that is where the ganache of a coulant can provide a better result as opposed to the cheater’s way of doing it with one recipe. Then again flagrante delicia could do it. DANG IT. Back to the drawing board. It looks alright here but I want it to be effortless: easy, simple therefore a classic. I will make it again with better butter, darker chocolate and greasier cups.
None of the recipes I have seen thus far, have techniques and tips on how to REMOVE the cake without the cracking and the spewing. I would like to learn this final step. I have two more tries. What next?
Oh but they’re delicious. A lot of eggs, but delicious. Agnes ended up doing ten minutes of hamster running inside the apartment. Perhaps I’ll try making them again for our Valentine’s Day party. =D
Now when I think about it, the melting heart cake could be the best physical realization of love. What a deep dessert.