Paul Lafayet @ K11 Tsimshatsui Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of our favorite holidaying destinations, having visited the place close to a dozen times over the last decade or so. Good food, fantastic shopping are just some of the reasons that draw us continually to go back over and over again, sometimes to try out new dimsum joints, or otherwise to revisit eateries and restaurants we’d been before to get our fix of good tong shuei or wanton mee. 买东西，吃东西，买东西， 吃东西… just like the advertisement by the HK Tourism Board a couple of years back. Strangely enough, our itineraries over the last few trips have never really about hunting for pastries, partially because the days are often spent going about our usual routine “shopping circuit” from one factory outlet to other, and of course, there’s so much good authentic local food around its a shame not to do our rounds while we were there. Be it bargains hunting or cha can teng (local teahouses) hopping, there’s usually hardly enough time for anything else.
The most recent trip, just 2 weeks back, was different, we’d decided to make amendments to our usual food itinerary and shopping guide to make time to visit some patisseries and bakeries, as well as shops that specialise in baking supplies. Thankfully, many of these were “along the way” to our usual eating places and shopping spots, so not much of a detour required! Before our trip, we did some “homework” by checking up on some of the dessert places to visit. Fieldtrip reviews by fellow blogging foodies as well as online eating guides and forums like openrice provided a vast amount of information. But we have only 4 days in Hong Kong, so being concise is really the key. After some painful but necessary trimming down, we are down to a handful of pastry joints which are more easily accessible by means of time management and public transport. So here we go!
Paul Lafayet (PL), one of the patisseries in Hong Kong which I’d been wanting to visit for sometime now. After adopting a more serious stance towards the art of pastry making, PL is a name that frequently pops up whenever I google for pastry related stuff in Hong Kong. So it would make perfect sense to visit them this time round.
PL has a couple of joints in Hong Kong. We’d intended to visit their outlet in Winsor House when we are in the Causeway Bay area as we’d planned in our itinerary for Day 3. But fate has it that we were down at Tsimshatsui area on our first day in Hong Kong and we were pretty much done with what we’d planned for the evening. After visiting the H&M and Esprit outlet stores at the Silvercord and China Hong Kong City respectively, we’d decidedly skipped the “Symphony of Lights” along the Avenue of Stars as we’d viewed it countless times and HMV at Hankow St has moved out of its 2-storey premise (which we later found out to have relocated to iSQUARE), and thus we suddenly had most of the evening free. A quick check and we found ourselves very close to K11 along Mody Road where Paul Lafayet was located. So it was down to their TST outlet it seems.
The shop is very small, more of a takeaway store as seating was very limited with only 3 high chairs over a metre-long wall table. But it was already occupied by a couple who were in the midst of their creme brulee and tiramisu. We’d initially wanted to takeaway some pieces back to the hotel actually but were quickly informed that the creme brulee would probably not do well out for too long. Our hotel was reasonably near TST, only a couple of MTR stops away but we didn’t wanted to take the risk. Thankfully the couple had just finished their desserts as we were deliberating over dine-in or takeaways, thus freeing up the space for us. We ordered 4 pieces – Rose & Raspberry Macaron, Macaron and Mixed Berry Tart, Creme Brulee and finally, an Apple and Rhubarb Crumble.
First up was the Rose and Raspberry Macaron, which is obviously created in the image of Pierre Herme’s Ispahan. Afterall, large rose pink macaron coques, fresh raspberries, the looks are too uncannily similar to be denied. Having tried Pierre Herme’s Macaron Ispahan and re-created the Ispahan on several occasions, one can’t help but have pre-conceived ideas and expectations on how it would taste like. How close would this be compared to the real McCoy? Alas the Rose and Raspberry Macaron turned out to be a “macawrong” catastrophe.
To be absolutely honest, we didn’t enjoy this at all. The macaron shells were well-made, and the raspberries used were fresh, despite already past dinner time. But this is all that’s good and positive to say about it. The filling comprised of alternating fresh raspberries with generous dollops of rose-flavoured white chocolate ganache filling. To cut short of all the pleasantries, the white chocolate filling was way too sweet and clearly a disaster. Whatever faint nuance of flora aroma from any rose extract infused was completely drowned by the avalanche of sugary sensations from the filling. Even J, a genuine sweet-tooth who has a much more forgiving threshold than I do, found the filling too sickly sweet to be consumed in its entirety. Judging by the number of traditional tong shuei stalls in just the Kowloon peninsula alone, be it for a serving of iced 楊枝甘露 Mango Pomelo Sago in summer or a comforting bowl of black sesame and walnut paste to warm the stomach in the cooler months, folks in Hong Kong are truly dessert aficionados. But I would boldly say that PL’s Rose and Raspberry Macaron was so sacchariferous that it almost intoxicating and beyond levels of condonation for most. We did not finish the piece, leaving almost half of it intact, except for the raspberries all around. And for people like us who love desserts, it says a lot. Save for those who seek a roller coaster ride of a sugar rush or sadistically, a truly shocking palate sensation, this is best avoided at all costs and most certainly not for the faint-hearted.
We downed copious amounts of water from the bottles we had with us after the Rose and Raspberry “Macawrong” to wash down all the unpleasant aftertaste from the cloyingly sweet white chocolate filling before the next piece, a Macaron and Berries Tart. However, the latter turned out no better.
If the Rose and Raspberry Macaron was too sweet, this tart must surely the exact opposite. The tart base had an acceptable crumb texture, considering its probably quite a number of hours after it was made. But the pâte au chocolat was completely void of any flavour or aroma, be it buttery or chocolatey. None whatsoever. Zilch! Couldn’t help but felt disappointed by the complete lack of means to stimulate our senses. In other words, it was totally drab and bland.
The custard-like filling suffered the same fate as the base, almost tasteless making what we ate perpetually non-descript. Some might begin to wonder if the flavours from the rose and raspberry “macawrong” had been too overbearing with residual remnants of it on our palate. As much I would love to agree with this suspicion, I’m afraid I couldn’t. And to make things worse, the Earl Grey macaron on top was under the same curse as the rose-themed one, being way too sweet, also from the use of white chocolate ganache filling. And to add to the checklist of disasters, the macaron shells were wet and soggy, yielding under the moisture absorbed from the cream based tart filling and possibly from the surrounding cuts of fruits leaching their juices as well. Alas the rich tea flavours from the infused Earl Grey was much more apparent in this macaron than the rose one, but still, this can hardly be deemed as a saving grace. Despite it being a “signature” of the shop and supposedly extremely popular, I stand corrected at how badly this tart was conceptualised and crafted. I hope that I am wrong, and this to be a bad day for the pastry chefs of PL in the kitchens.
Crème brûlée, another signature at Paul Lafayet and the bake which brought my attention to this pastry shop. It seems that this is a “must order” by most who visit the shop for the first time, and even by those who patronise it periodically. Judging by the sheer number of stashes of custard-filled porcelain dishes that were in the chilled display, it seems extremely popular as PL prepares for a daily major sellout of them.
I’d had one a many crème brûlées both locally and overseas. While Paul Lafayet’s is nowhere near the bottom of the list, it most certainly doesn’t have what it means to join the ranks of those deemed truly delicious. Caramelisation was performed in situ, upon ordering. A nice touch indeed. Alas the amount of sugar added was too frugal, producing a caramelised layer a tad too thin for my liking. It is a personal idiosyncracy, which I found immensely gratifying, to work through a thick layer of caramelised sugar and enjoy listening to the crackling of the amber shards as they yield under the pressure of a dessert spoon. Alas PL’s crème brûlée did not grant me the chance for that “fetish” and thus is automatically deemed B-grade.
Also, PL’s crème brûlée is nothing but an egg pudding. “What else should a crème brûlée be?!” some might cry foul in defense for Paul Lafayet. Well, I’m not asking for far-fetch quality like premium 陈皮 dried tangerine skin infused crème brûlée served at the three michelin star Lung King Heen, Four Seasons Hong Kong, but surely this simple french custard can be enriched and made more interesting, say with the vanilla seeds from just one vanilla pod infused in the cream, like the one served at Bakerzin or perhaps even a generous splosh of rum or cognac in its making. So i reiterate, that PL’s crème brûlée is nothing but an egg pudding. I’m sure few would disagree.
The last piece we had was an Rhubarb & Apple Crumble, a rustic-looking dish which can be whipped up by any french housewife who is in the knowing of its makings. Surely it can’t be that difficult to make? Well, it can be if one decides to look into the details. First is the balance of flavours, which in this case is mostly tart, from the chopped rhubarb and choice of good cooking apples, e.g. Bramley or other likening varieties. The amount of sugar added has to be carefully deliberated, to accentuate the sourness from the fruits and yet give them a more polish and rounded finish. Also, the play of textures is important, as rhubarb and apples cook differently, owing to differing degrees of moisture and hardness. To cook them to the appropriate level of softness and yet maintaining significant bite and not being overtly mushy is quite an acrobatic act, which usually involves chunking the apples and rhubarb to their respective tailored sizes to ensure that they cook out evenly in the end.
I’m glad to say that PL’s R&A Crumble was rather well executed. Finally, a piece to salvage the entirely gastronomic
disaster experience. Alas it is not without its problems. The crumble on top was a tad too buttery and thus literally oozing oils with every bite, from the reheating process before serving. It was less crumbly as we’d hoped for. But to be fair, the filling was quite delicious. Alas, this piece, though not quite perfect, was the least of all evils we’d had today, finally a big sigh of relief.
Would I recommend Paul Lafayet to be on the “to try” list for anyone braving into the Hong Kong pastry scene? Well, I don’t think it takes much to know what I would suggest. I hate writing negative reviews and avoid doing so whenever possible. Diplomatically put, I would like to think that there are better patisseries around with quality work waiting to be discovered. Heading straight to Paul Lafayet without trying the others would invariably leave one disappointed and possibly disheartened.