Best Mince Pie Award (by me)

As Christmas-related paraphernalia starts to invade every corner of our sights, especially November onward, so are mince pies which proliferate on the shelves of every bakery and coffee shop like a bunch of mushrooms in the autumn forests.
I gorge on them every winter not because I am very fond of them but because they are seasonal and the only time they are available is…NOW!

Firstly, I tried the one by Duchy of Cornwall, a brand created by Prince Charles. They were available in upmarket supermarkets and sold at £4.00 for a box of six. While their counterparts were priced at between £1.00 to £2.50, the Duchy’s pastry was significantly more expensive. Was their price tag justified? I am afraid not. The amount of the filling was much less than I expected and also it was consisted of too much sultana. The pastry casing was ok but also nothing remarkable. I don’t think I will buy them in future.
Another posh one I tried was from Fortnum & Mason. I tried it when I visited Somerset House with Hubbie. At their tea room within the Christmas Market, a pair of mince pies were offered with brandy butter. So I tried them with a mug of mulled cider. My verdict? Mmmm…, the shortbread crust was too thick and the filling was, how should I put it…, “gluey”. I really don’t think it will be worth parting with my precious £12.95 for six of this.
Then, I came across my winner by chance the other day.
I was sauntering around Shoreditch and decided to have a latte break at SCP on Curtain Road. There was a mince pie by St.John on display and I was intrigued by its rather rustic appearance. The top of the pastry was shiny and plump. I had had enough of the false pretence produced by de luxe brands by then. So I resolved to give another try to this artisan mince pie before going back to buying more down-to-earth cakes…

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I had my first mouthful and I loved it! The filling was fresh and crunchy in a good way. I could feel the texture of the filling – apple, sultanas, currants, lemon, orange, almond mixed exquisitely with cinnamon and nutmeg. The pastry casing was robust enough to hold the generous filling without being too hard nor heavy. It was probably one of the best mince pies I had ever tasted!
If you happen to be around Shoreditch, Clerkenwell or Bermonsey this winter, pay a visit to St.John’s bakery and try their pastry. And let me know what you think…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Moomin Bakery @ LaQua

A word, “Moomin”, evokes fond memories of the childhood amongst most of the Japanese. Despite being Finnish **** characters, the inhabitants of Moomin Valley is extremely popular in this far-east country. My first encounter with them was through a series of TV cartoons aired as a part of “Calpis Theatre” (カルピス劇場) – the programmes sponsored by a popular soft drink company. I was instantly besotted with a protagonist, Moomin, who resembled a hippo and his peculiar looking relatives and friends. I looked forward to watching the cartoon every Saturday (or was it on Sunday?), and drew him on my notepad tirelessly for the rest of week. When the series came to the end eventually, I was understandably crestfallen, felt the same sort of emptiness when SATC was finally over.
This is the Moomin I grew up with…

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Apparently, Tove Jansson, a creator of Moomin, disapproved of the appearance of the Japanese Moomin. She thought it was too round and fat. However, the Japanese animators / character designers were very concerned of the aesthetics of the original Moomin because his feature was more angular and wouldn’t be found cute “Kawaii” and cuddly by the Japanese audience…

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Hmmm…, how would I feel if I were in Tove’s shoes?
Probably, I would have felt the same frustration if my creation was not honestly depicted. Japanese anime Moomin & Tove’s original Moomin, they do look rather different, don’t they?
Despite the discrepancy, it was also undeniable that the Japanese Moomin cartoon endeared these fascinating characters from Finland to millions of the Japanese children and parents alike and found a permanent place in their hearts. I hope Miss.Jansson knew about it.

After stuffing ourselves with pancake at Bubby’s, mum and I took subway from Shinbashi and traveled to Kōrakuen, our next destination. The station was the closest to LaQua Tokyo Dome City, in which existed the Moomin Bakery & Cafe…

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Since the premises opened its door in 2003, the bakery had been introducing Finnish style baked treats to the Japanese bread lovers. Especially, rye bread is one of Finnish specialities. However, comparing it with its German counterpart, Finnish rye bread is sweetened with honey. And this sweet flavour really appeals to the Japanese tastebuds…

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We weren’t even remotely hungry after Bubby’s so decided to buy a few pastries for snack later on…

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Their shelves were laden with tempting looking breads…

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Many of them were not only cute to behold but also a tasty fusion of the Japanese & Finnish culinary cultures…

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Some pastries were literally out of the cartoon books..

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Amongst breads, there were also biscuits…

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and chocolate. Perfect as gifts…

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Small kitchen utensils were also on sale…

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A “Stuff It Yourself” goodie bag in various sizes…

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Fellow visitors were shopping for Moomin treats and souvenirs…

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We were a bit disappointed that they weren’t fully stocked with the Moomin merchandise.
Still, they sold some tableware…

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and party paraphernalia and phone straps…

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Cuddly toys for kids..

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and Moomin tote bags for grown-ups…

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Next to the bakery was a cafe with a special menu for Moomin fans…

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In spite of being an ordinary weekday afternoon, their tables were fully occupied…

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A kind diner allowed me a picture of her latte…

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and a plate of Moomin pancake…

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We bought some treats for ourselves…

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The pastries were filled with custard, one was flavoured with raspberry and the other with chocolate. They were really tasty.
I learnt recently that a Moomin themed amusement park are planned to open in Japan in 2015. Mum and I are really looking forward to visiting there together!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Kowloon Bakery @ Chinatown

Contrary to the previous day’s wet weather, yesterday was dry and sunny. The air was crisp  but felt clean. Probably, that stormy rain which cracked the ceiling of the Apollo Theatre also gave a good hosing down to the entire city. I donned my vintage fur coat, hopped on a tube and headed to Leicester Square. My primal destination of the day was Trafalgar Square Post Office. I was there to apply for an international driving permit for my impending trip to Japan. Once the permit was sorted, I set out to the National Portrait Gallery, a stone’s throw from the post office…

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I had been wanting to visit the exhibition “Elizabeth & Her People” since I saw the poster in Old Street tube station. Conveniently I was nearby, I thought ‘Why not now?’ So I went in…

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No camera was allowed inside the venue, therefore, there is no picture to show in here.
The exhibition was well curated and if you have an appetite for this particular period of Tudor history, it will be well worth paying £12.50. The show’s final day is 5th of January,  so please hurry if you don’t want to miss out.

Whereupon leaving the NPG, I scouted for a place for late lunch. I wandered into the National Gallery next door and browsed the shelves laden with Peyton & Byrne’s sandwiches but didn’t fancy any of them. Then, I remembered a Chinese bakery on Gerrard Street which I hadn’t visited for more than 15 years. Why don’t I check out if it still exists, I thought.
On my way to Chinatown, I decided to pay homage to a Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square…

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How does the tree twinkle after dark? I probably have no time to see it this year. Should I take the car for a spin around the square one evening during this weekend?

Kowloon Bakery was one of the oldest bakeries in Chinatown…

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I used to take away their roast pork bun and coconut custard bun regularly and ate them as I sauntered around Soho. I also liked their crystal chicken bun – a bun stuffed with chicken & vegetable in clear chicken gravy, so alternated it with a roast pork bun time to time.
Certainly, lots of buns and cakes on display…

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The inside appeared very different from the time I used to frequent…

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Apart from a small goods lift in its original location, which conveyed trays of buns from the basement kitchen, everything else was sleek and modern. Walls were clad with beige ceramic tiles and tables were no longer Formica topped but neatly decked with timber.
A restaurant which adjoined the bakery used to be a normal eatery – foods to be ordered from the menu, but the present one adopted a buffet style serving.

Another way I used to eat my buns 15 years ago was to order a small bowl of wonton noodle soup at the restaurant and ate them together on the premises.
I asked a staff who was putting my buns in a paper bag if I could eat at the bakery rather than taking it away. A rapid exchange in Chinese ensued between a woman behind the till and the bakery staff. And the cashier said ‘Ok, you can stay’. Normally, all the tables were for buffet diners only but they made an exception for me because it was after 2pm and the place was less busy.
I was ushered to the seat and a cup of English tea was brought to my table shortly.

A roast pork bun…

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Mmm… Sadly, the bun I sank my teeth into was not exactly like the one I remembered. The bread was dry and chewy and the filling was not as generous as it used to be.

How about coconut custard bun then…

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The filling was the same as before but the problem was again, their dough. The texture I enjoyed 15 years ago was bouncer lighter and more moist even if it was not fresh like just “out of the oven”. Oh well, 15 years was a long time. Even though my trip down the memory lane didn’t turn out as exactly I hoped for, I left the bakery with a certain sense of closure.
Oh how I wished if I revisited them before too long… *SIGH*

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Day-glo gateaux @ Chinatown

One early evening, I was fleeting through a forever busy Chinatown, dodging, sidestepping and shimmying between the crowd who were in my way like traffic cones on M25.

A usual spectacle attracts tourists and locals alike…

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The steaming window is adorned with ducks and various parts of meat.
And behind it, a chef is busy wielding menacing looking knife.

While those stereotypical Chinese eateries appear as a permanent fixture, Chinatown as a whole has changed significantly in the past decades.

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The site which is now occupied by  Odeon Leicester Square, there used to be a large Chinese restaurant.
The floor was dimly lit and clustered with circular tables in various sizes.
For some unknown reason, there was a stage in the back of the restaurant. Sometimes, a colourful  decoration from the previous private hire was left on the stage, giving out a rather exotic atmosphere.
The restaurant disappeared as Westminster Council redeveloped around Leicester Square, being nibbled away by the wave of gentrification.

In recent years, Chinatown has evolved in… a colourful way!
Behold those day-glo hued cakes…

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Don’t you think it looks like a Barbie doll’s cake shop in a life-size?

The colours are too fantastic to be edible. Are they for real?

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I think they are real. They are definitely not made of wax.
Hmmm… They look mesmerizing…

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