Monday, December 15, 2014

Nine Auspicious Sweets: A brief history lesson in Thai confectionery

The Thai word ขนม (pronounced: kǎ-NÓM) is the encompassing term for anything that is not eaten with rice during a meal.  Instead, kǎ-NÓM is eaten after a meal or in between meals.  With such a definition, this word thus includes lollies, bonbons, pastries, baked goods, snacks (savoury and sweet, e.g. potato chips/crisps) --- and even bread!  That is because traditionally, Thais don't eat bread during a meal and even though it has become an adopted staple, we tend to enjoy sweet spreads on our bread more than savoury ones like pâté.

There are hundreds of different types of traditional desserts and confectionery in Thailand, but the following nine are arguably the most famous, because each one has an auspicious meaning.  They are therefore often presented as gifts on important occasions like graduations, job promotions and weddings.  These nine different types of confectionery range in size from an American nickel coin to an American quarter coin.

For my readers who can't read Thai, I shall now tell you their names and rough translations, as well as their symbolic meanings.

Top row from left to right

  1. Jǎ-Mōng-Gǔt  - (lit.) "sergeant's crown", symbolises promotion, be it your academic year level or a job promotion
  2. Kǎ-Nóm-Chán - (lit.) "layered confectionery", symbolises ever increasing prosperity
  3. Lùg-Chûb - (lit.) "coated little tidbits", Thailand's marzipan fruits, but in this case, they are made from green bean paste or soy bean paste.  They symbolise adorability.
  4. Tōng-Ěk - (lit.) "first gold", symbolises the blessing "may you forever be the first/champion in everything you do".  Of all the nine auspicious confectionery, I like this one the most because of its stodgy texture, mildly sweet taste (it's not in-your-face sweet like the #1, #2 and #5 from the bottom row) and subtle jasmine aromas.

Bottom row from left to right

  1. Fói-Tōng - (lit.) "golden threads", symbolises ever-lasting love
  2. Tōng-Yǒd - (lit.) "golden drops", symbolises endless wealth
  3. Sā-Nĕ-Jān - (lit.) "lunar charm", symbolises the blessing that whoever eats this would be charming to the moon and back.  This sweet is characterised by nutmeg.  Nutmeg in Thai is Lùg-Jān.  The word Jān is also the Thai word for the moon.
  4. Mêd-Kā-Nún - (lit.) "jackfruit seeds", sweet raviolis stuffed with green bean paste.  They symbolise the blessing "may the eater have friends and people who'd always support them", because a jackfruit has lots of seeds.
  5. Tōng-Yǐb - (lit.) "folded gold", symbolises the blessing "may you always have money to spend" (i.e. lots of folded bills in your wallet)

The nine sweets traditionally presented on a platter

The common ingredients used in making Thai sweets are

  • Sugar in various forms:
    • Cane paste
    • Caster sugar
    • Brown sugar (both the type that looks like damp beach sand, and the type that is like caster sugar but happens to be of a darker tint)
    • Syrup
  • Coconut milk
  • Agar-agar
  • Eggs - especially the yolks
  • Flour of various origins
    • Tapioca
    • Rice
    • Wheat
    • Beans (in this case it would be classified as "meal" in English instead of "flour")
  • Flavouring and aroma enhancers:
    • Pandanus extract
    • Jasmine water
    • Rose water
    • Scented candle - used in the smoking process of certain sweets when they are finished or used to smoke the coconut milk before incorporating it with other ingredients.  These candles fit into a nook that you create inside a pot or some other large container and are lit to begin the infusion process.  For further clarification, please view the accompanying photo.

After having graduated with a pastry-making diploma from a well-known French culinary institution, I have come to a personal conclusion that there are more to be loved in this world than just French sweets.  Therefore I should transcend the "hegemony" of European-style sweets and discover and fall in love with other ones.

Appreciating food of different cultures also implies breaking free from the mindset about which flavours are "allowed" or "supposed" to be in something, especially desserts.

Saltiness has only become a trend in sweets of the West, with items like sea salt caramel and sea salt sprinkled on tempered dark chocolate leading the polls of popular new flavour combinations in dessert, whereas in the East, salt has traditionally been widely used as a flavour-enhancer in sweets.  This is not to say that one culture is more "advanced" simply because it has arrived at this step in culinary evolution faster than the other.  Not at all.  As someone who is extremely interested in history (particularly food history), I am more curious to discover the reasons behind a development than passing judgment about which is the "better" or "more sophisticated" culture or cuisine.

Instead of delving too much into the historiography of Thailand, namely the debates about the causes and effects of Ayutthaya's rise and fall, I'd like to present to you only the facts that are relevant to the development of traditional sweets in Old Siam (for those of you who don't yet know, "Siam" is the former name of Thailand).

Historically, Siam was not a ranching country.  It was not until recent investments by Western foreigners that cattle (and consequently, dairy) became common in Thailand.  Therefore, Thai sweets do not contain milk or milk derivatives.

Great news if you're lactose intolerant!

King Ramathibodhi III ("King Narai the Great") ruled Ayutthaya, the former capital city of Siam, in the years 1656-1688.  This period can be considered as Siam's golden age, where international commerce flourished and diplomatic relations with European powers like France were arranged through frequent envoy missions.  Most importantly, it was a relatively long period of peace between Siam and her neighbouring countries, chiefly Burma.

Marking it most clearly as a golden age was King Narai's promotion of religious freedom among his populace.  The effects of his open-mindedness lasted all the way to modern day Thailand.  Our country embraces Buddhism first and foremost, but also embraces Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.

King Narai the Great (1633-1688)

It was precisely because of religious freedom that brought a Greek adventurer by the name of Constantine Phaulkon and his Catholic wife of mixed Portuguese-Japanese-Bengali ancestry to Siam.  They fled Japan, their former residence, because of the bloody religious prosecutions that Christians suffered during the period that Japan busied herself with closing her ports, expelled foreigners, and pursued a policy of Isolationism.  

Constantine Phaulkon entered the service of King Narai as a translator and interpreter, where he utilised his understanding of English, Portuguese, French, Malay and Thai.  He learned the local language at his previous place of employment, which was also an enforcer of British Colonialism: the East India Trading Company.  After years of service, King Narai awarded Phaulkon with a title and land.  His wife, Maria Guyomar de Pinha, was also awarded a title.  She became Thao Thong Kip Ma (ท้าวทองกีบม้า) which can be affectionately translated to English as "Lady Golden Hooves".  Understandably, "Guyomar" became "Kip Ma" (horse hooves).

"Lady Golden Hooves"

Political intrigue would prove to be Phaulkon's downfall.  Whether you subscribe to the Thai belief that he was a spy that sold secrets to the French and helped the European superpower in their (failed) ambition to colonise Thailand or whether you subscribe to the other view that jealous Siamese ministers spread rumours about how the Greek wanted to use Narai's successor as a puppet and become the power behind the throne; it all comes down to political intrigue.  Phaulkon and his devotees were arrested and executed by the order of Phra Petracha (พระเพทราชา), King Narai's foster brother, without the king's knowledge.  King Narai would pass away a few days later after battling a protracted illness that began in the last months of his life.

Because King Narai was in no condition to fight, Petracha had his way and his bloody Revolution of 1688 was successful in making him the next ruler of Siam.  Upon the king's death, he killed off all of Narai's other heirs and took Narai's only daughter as his wife.  He then proceeded to follow Japan's isolationistic footsteps by reversing all laws that were passed in Narai's reign, as well as expelled all Westerners from Siam.  This would appear quite Tywin Lannister-esque to my readers who are Game of Thrones fans.  The effects of Petracha's xenophobia would echo through the ages, as it was not until the 19th Century that Siam would form close political contacts with Westerners again under the reign of the progressive King Rama V of the Chakri Dynasty.

The Tywin Lannister of Ayutthaya - Lord Petchara (1632-1703)

The progressive King Rama V (1853-1910) seen here wearing a western style military uniform

"But what does all of this have to do with sweets?" you might ask...

Lady Golden Hooves was working in the kitchen of King Narai.  It was there that she created and developed many of the traditional Thai sweets that we know nowadays.  Drawing from her roots, because she was part Portuguese, she made the use of egg yolks in sweets-making become common place in the Siamese royal kitchen.  Guyomar was also a victim of the political games that killed her husband.  After Phaulkon was executed, she was sentenced to imprisonment.  By today's standards, she would be classed as a political prisoner.  However, she was not to mope around in a cell; Petracha had other plans for her.  He sent her back to the royal kitchen, where she was forced to work until his death in 1703.  From 1688 to 1703, that's 15 years!!  However, Maria Guyomar did eventually rise to the position of head of the kitchen staff.  I presume that this only happened after Tywin Lannister died.  I'd like to think that she developed the Fói-Tōng recipe to honour her dead husband, but there is no proof of this.  If you've forgotten the symbolic meaning of Fói-Tōng, you can always scroll back up to read it again.

Through the fusion of Portuguese techniques with Thai ingredients and presenting it in an intricate style that is synonymous to Thai cooking, Lady Golden Hooves took the cuisine of her adoptive country to new levels.  Despite losing her husband, her title and all the privileges that came with it, she devoted her life to her craft as a cook, and as a present day Thai, I have much to thank this inspirational lady, and the best way to honour her legacy is to enjoy her creations.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Essay: On challenges that myVinotype faces in Asia

This blog post is written like an essay rather than in my usual casual discussion style, because the material that I intend to present here is best conveyed in this format.  If you find the language style of essays and other "academia" daft and boring, please read some of my other blog posts.  However, I do recommend that you carry on reading this one, because there are many nuggets of information that may be new and of interest to you.

Before we get into further discussions about this topic, I'd like to reiterate that I'm a myVinotype proponent.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, myVinotype is "a tool for consumers to learn about their own preferences" as stated on the "About Us" section of their website.  This approach to wine selection is the crystallisation of the research done by Mr. Tim Hanni (MW) in his book Why You Like the Wines You Like (ISBN-10: 0615750885).

If you're interested in purchasing a copy of the book, they are sold at a famous online bookshop.  Simply click here to be led to the shop.

Now that all of the general notices are mentioned we can start the essay.  Here we go...

A quick explanation regarding the types of audience I had while hosting tasting events in Bangkok:
   10 people per each tasting session that I hosted
   Predominantly male;  most groups can be broken down to a 7:3 ratio of male:female
   >40 years old
   None were tradespeople, all practise a profession (doctor, pharmacist, business manager)
   The majority (around 60%) are educated in the United States (medical school or business school), so this sample group does not reflect the national average, as they command a much better understanding of English.  This is important to note, because many scientific words do not exist in Thai.
Based on my experiences of leading myVinotype-like tasting sessions in Bangkok, there are four main challenges in spreading this new wine philosophy in Thailand.

1.  Language
2.  Coffee/Tea
3.  Salt
4.  Spiciness

Let's discuss the first issue: language.

There are even fewer words in Thai that can be used to describe sensations perceived by an individual, in particular those that regard taste and smell.  In English, there are a myriad of words that are similes, but some imply a deeper meaning.  Take the word "sweet" for example.  You would most likely describe sugar as "sweet" but you wouldn't use "syrupy" to describe a fruit, because the latter implies a certain texture, and a certain process that transforms the product, despite the two sharing a similar taste.  That is only an example of an easy-to-comprehend flavour.  Things become much more challenging to convey - using only Thai - when it involves more complex subjects, such as umami.  

Even though this word has its roots in Japanese, another Asian country, it does not mean that all Asians automatically understand its definition.  To assume that all Thais must know what umami means would be as erroneous as stating that all Englishmen must intrinsically understand wild (the German word used to describe game meat flavour) without consulting a dictionary, simply because England and Germany are nations in the same continent. 

Many Thais may have experienced the taste before, but without a coined word in our language with a meaning on which everyone can agree, it is impossible to conjure the same understanding in different people's minds.  Therefore, we delve into the realm of metaphysics.  To understand what we are experiencing, we need to answer that essential question of this discipline of philosophy: "What is it like?"

Now we come to the issue of coffee/tea.

The Chinese form the majority of ethnic minorities in Thailand.  I myself am one, as all four of my grandparents came from China.  Other than many artisanal skills such as gold-smithing and jewellery-making, the Chinese have also contributed to Thai society in the areas of food and medicine.  Thai menus such as soup noodles and boat noodles (ก๋วยเตี๋ยว) are actually relatively recent developments of Chinese origins, as the etymology attests.  However, since the menus' introduction, they have been inducted into- and integrated well in the host country's dining culture.  So well, in fact, that street-side noodle stalls have become ubiquitous in all Thai towns and cities.

Medicine is the other area where the Chinese have left a positive mark in Thai society.  Chinese holistic food therapy, also known as in simplified Chinese (食療 in traditional Chinese characters), is practised on a daily basis by a large following, especially by Thai-Chinese women.  This interest in holistic alternatives is reflected in the establishment of a traditional Chinese medicine department in Hua Chiew Hospital (โรงพยาบาลหัวเฉียว), which is a government-funded institution that has been around since 1938.

It is this practice of eating healthily according to principles of traditional Chinese medicine, that some Thais drink neither tea nor coffee.  So, things become challenging when such a person is given a myVinotype survey that has several questions about how the questionnaire-taker consumes coffee or tea (with dairy, with sugar, with neither dairy nor sugar, and so on and so forth).

On the other hand, a typical Thai still prefers to drink instant coffee.  This is the result of decades of marketing and branding by a particular Swiss company whose logo depicts a family of birds.  The branding has been so aggressive that their product - famously contained in red mugs - has become ingrained in our culture to the point that Thais use this brand-name to synonymously mean all instant coffee.  And since Thais mostly drink instant coffee, it is then reasonable to extrapolate the assumption that this product's name means coffee in Thailand.  I find this to be a sickening side of consumerism.  However, this does not mean that I am a advocate of state-dictated economics; no not at all.  I still believe in free markets.  Nonetheless, based on a few of the University of San Francisco (my alma mater) print-ads: "Learn how to run a multinational corporation and still go to heaven," and "Wicked smart without the wicked part."  But I digress...

To make matters more complicated for a Thai myVinotype questionnaire-taker, that particular Swiss company understands local tastes and preferences so well that it was the first to produce a "3-in-1" instant coffee.  That means coffee flakes, sugar, and non-dairy creamer all come in tall, skinny sachets that contains exactly enough to make one cup of coffee.  As many Thais are lactose intolerant, adding milk or cream to coffee isn't an option.   This convenient product also means many Thais consume flavours that suppress the bitterness of coffee, but cannot define whether she or he would prefer just the "creamer" or just the sugar, and if so, in what amount.  After some discussions with him, I have learned that this topic about dairy and coffee is one element of the questionnaire, which Mr. Hanni will rephrase for different countries in Asia.  

Now we move on to the issue of salt.

Only a few Asian countries use salt as a condiment.  I have had individuals who handed me back the survey with "none" as their answer, but when I asked them if they enjoy adding soy sauce or fish sauce to food, they answer "Yes, a lot!"  Therefore, to ask about addition of salt at the dining table is not an accurate indicator of how inclined an Asian individual is at suppressing bitterness in- or enhancing the flavours of food.

Finally, we come to the discussion about spiciness.

Despite our world-renowned cuisine that favour bold flavours, we Thais are wary of other spices.  I've witnessed some who turn up their noses at cinnamon powder on crêpes.  What's more puzzling is there are plenty of Thais who avoid eating Indian food, even though many of our national dishes evolved from using ingredients and cooking methods that are common in South India.

On the other hand, chili peppers are the way of life for a Thai.  Finding a Thai who doesn't like chili peppers is as difficult as finding a Brazilian who doesn't like football (for my North American readers: "soccer").  This is the true form of football, because the majority of players on the field play with their feet for the majority of the playing time.  But once again, I digress.  Back to the topic at hand...  Such people can be found, but it's difficult.  In Thailand, a tolerance for chili is taken with nationalistic and macho pride by all genders.  "I'm Thai and I love my country.  To show this to my others, I have to add more chili to my food at lunch break, because a Thai who can't handle burns on the tongue ain't a real Thai.  Yep, that and drinking icy-cold water."  This confirms what Mr. Hanni stated in his book: that a chili preference does not equate to being a Tolerant in myVinotype.

As mentioned in his book, aromatic spices and spices that cause burning-sensations are different.  However, when you ask a Thai "Do you like spicy food?" the question is automatically interpreted as "Do you like chili peppers?"  For many of us, other spices are not at all considered when answering this question.  I find that rather odd, because spicy should not mean only chili  it should mean all spices!  Food served at the royal courts of medieval Europe had plenty of imported spices.  This was done to boast the host's wealth, as well as to enhance the flavour of dishes, in particular game meat that royalties and the nobility loved to hunt in their past-time.  Using that example for my Thai and other Asian readers, by that definition, medieval European food must also be considered spicy.

I hope that by writing this essay, I've provided you, dear reader, with more insight and new discoveries about myVinotype in the Southeast-Asian context.  The philosophy is still relatively new in the world of wine, so naturally, it has to continue to grow and adapt in order to fulfill its potential.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Scarlett Slimms and Lucky: Mount Eden's mystery

When I went there, Scarlett Slimms had just opened its doors for a week.  Situated on Mt. Eden Road, the main road of the namesake neighbourhood.  According to one of the waitresses, this business is under the same management team, but has been remodelled and renamed.

This eatery is quaint and charming, as befitting its small and cozy size with its crime fiction atmosphere.  There are only a few tables indoors, so if it's a sunny day, then it is worth it to sit outside at one of the long tables.  They remind this writer of those in his boarding school's dining hall.

However, this does not mean that Scarlett Slimms serves dining hall food.  In fact, it's the very opposite!  The kitchen team prepares and cooks each menu with care.  The plates are very muted, and it is this very reason that the colours of the ingredients appear more vibrant.  Please have a look at the accompanying photos of this post and you'll see what I mean.

Nonetheless, there are two (trivial) issues regarding the food.  Please bear in mind that these are my personal opinions, based on my personal sensory perceptions.
  1. In the main dish, the verjus enhances the bitterness of the Savoy cabbage.  There should be an option for the diner to have the sauce in a small gravy boat.
  2. The lavender flavour in the "caviar" was rather muted.  It would have been a nice contrast to the sharpness of the lemon sauce, but this dimension was lacking because the lavender aroma wasn't strong enough.

Price-wise, Scarlett Slimms offers decent deals for being located in the picturesque neighbourhood that is Mt. Eden.

Appetisers:  NZD12.00 - 15.00
Mains:  NZD 25.00 - 35.00
Desserts:  NZD 12.00-15.00

Overall grade:  4/5

Unique charms:
  • Fast and friendly service
  • Indoors: small tables
  • Outdoors: big tables with benches and high tables with bar stools
  • Outside dining area is separated into 2 parts by a plastic see-through awning - this helps in case of rain
  • Creatively named menu sections

I highly recommend this restaurant!

A murder mystery style menu booklet

Filet of crispy fish with clams on a bed of Savoy cabbage and bacon

Profiteroles filled with lemon custard - served with edible flowers, lemon sauce and lavender "caviar"

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sky Tower: the symbol of Auckland

Auckland's most prominent landmark is the Sky Tower.  It has a similar shape to Seattle's Space Needle, but is almost twice as tall.

This skyscraper was opened on 3rd March 1997 after 3 years of construction.  It truly is a sight to behold, and is visible from almost every nook of the city and surrounding areas.

In its "disc" part, there is a rotating restaurant that is appropriately called Orbit and next to this tall giant is the famous SKYCITY Casino.

Mr. Ken Chaichana of Barfoot & Thompson Real Estate (my host for this New Zealand trip) graciously treated me to one final meal there before I returned to Thailand the next morning.  If you're looking to buy or sell property in the Auckland area, please be sure to look up Mr. Chaichana at a local B&T office.  He'll find you a great deal.

So tall that I can't even fit it all in the picture

Sky Tower as viewed from Queen Street

Sky Tower dominating the Auckland skyline, viewed from Westhaven Marina

Twilight of my last evening in Auckland

Taste perfection:  Hawke's Bay lamb loin (I like my red meat rare) with feta cheese polenta cake, borlotti bean casserole and mint oil

One final chips with aioli to share with my host

Valrhona Jivara chocolate delight with passionfruit centre.  Like most Kiwi sweets I've tasted so far, the fruit flavour isn't as pronounced as I would have liked it.

The Store: fast service, small portion sizes, but expensive

Very near Auckland's Britomart transportation hub is The Store.

Here, you'll be served delicious food by an active service team.  Fast and friendly service makes this the ideal lunch spot for people who work in nearby office buildings.  However, the prices of their menus are slightly on the higher end.  A smoothie costs NZD7.00 and a small-plate lunch starts at NZD20.00

If your budget stretches that far and you're looking for a quick place to eat that's close to the waterfront in the downtown area of Auckland, then I recommend this bistro.  Otherwise, please pick some place else.

Overall grade:  4.5/5.0
Unique charms:

  • Straw hats for customers to borrow when seated outside on the patio
  • High quality condiments set
  • Bubbly complementary water
  • The take-away and the dine-in sections have separate entrances

A very tasty but also quite expensive smoothie

Pasta with lamb ragu

The quality of the olive oil, salt and pepper is immediately evident when you taste them.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Blue Breeze Inn: tropical Pacific in temperate Pacific

On Ponsonby Road, you'll find many eateries, "watering holes" and coffee shops; each one bustling in competition with the others to gain repeat-businesses of customers.  Therefore you'll find various business models and strategies utilised by the owners and management teams in order to gain a foothold and survive in this prominent arena that is Auckland's Ponsonby.  

As a former business student, I truly appreciate the mental exercises of "case-studies" that one can witness as a bystander on a nightly basis in this neighbourhood.  Questions such as "How can cafe 'x' still compete against the might that is coffee shop chain 'y'?" occupy my mind while food and caffeinated drinks occupy my stomach.

Adorned with Polynesian decor, the trendy restaurant named The Blue Breeze Inn is adored by Aucklanders.  It has, in all regards, achieved a strong foothold from which it is building its name and fame through friendly service of "Kiwi-ised", modernised and "fusionised" Southern Chinese cuisine.

The restaurant's chef de partie, Mr. Jirapong, has graciously hosted a group of Thai expats and myself at his place of employment.  Below is a summary of my impressions of The Blue Breeze Inn.

Overall grade:  4/5

Unique charms:
  • Polynesian decor - the restaurant is made to feel like you're dining in a bungalow
  • Dimly lit, crowded tables, and rather loud music - this creates a lively atmosphere, as though you're dining in a night club.  If you're looking for a place to have a chat over a meal, please keep looking.
  • Friendly and young service team - they wear Hawaiian shirts as their uniforms
  • Larger portion sizes than the Kiwi average - because the head chef wants you to share menus within your dining party, as is custom in most Asian cultures.
  • Very clean bathrooms that are also decorated with Polynesian art

However, with all the positives mentioned, I'd like to inform you that there is one big negative at this restaurant - particularly for people with sensitive noses.  Because of the type of cuisine it specialises in, the way that the kitchen is built (open kitchen), along with its high customer turnover (even on a weekday evening), your clothes and hair are going to accumulate a lot of smoke from the cooking.

The VIP table is made to look like a wine barrel

"Choc pot" dessert - chocolate and peanut butter lava mini cake with quinelles of chocolate and vanilla ice cream

Taro fritters with a scoop of lemon sorbet

Chef Jirapong and I

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Occidental: TERRIBLE!!

Contrasting the highlights I've had in Auckland was the low point of eating at a Belgian pub called Occidental.  There are several branches of this restaurant across Auckland.  The one I went to is in downtown, just off Queen Street (the city's main street).

Despite being a favourite haunt of Thai International flight crews and appearing in many city guides, this place is over-hyped and serves terrible food.

Here are reasons why:

  • DISGUSTING mussels.  Even though it's the restaurant's signature menu, the kitchen team didn't pay enough attention to making it deserve that title.  It was very unpleasant to find that the mussels have not been cleaned properly.  I don't just mean there was some grit and dirt in the shells - that is at least a forgivable offence - I mean the mussels still have mini crustaceans in them that they have semi-digested.  It's like eating a creature along with its last meal.  What's shocking is that it wasn't only the one accidental mussel that had something half-consumed, I had multiple ones in the very same order!!
  • The pommes dauphinoise gratinés that accompanied the lamb shank main dish was stone-cold, had no nutmeg and was sickeningly sweet in taste.
  • The lamb shank itself was also cold, stiff and very dry.  It also had a distinct smell of stale refrigerator air when you bite into it.
  • The sauce that came with the main dish was gloopy, looked more like a watered-down BBQ sauce with chunks of under-cooked onions in it and it was spilled over every part of the plate.
  • The vegetables that came with the dish was under-cooked, bland and gave this diner a new understanding of "anglaise".

I whole-heartedly recommend that you AVOID this place, and save yourself the traumatic experience of "dining" there.

Miserable-looking vegetables accompanying stale lamb shank with stone-cold potatoes.  Seconds?  Yes please!  :-P

Oh, the trauma!

The only saving grace of the meal was this.  I mean, if you manage to even screw this up, then you really do need to voluntarily close down.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Good One: more like "great one"

Located in what was once a warehouse in Ponsonby, the Good One coffee shop is famous not only for the brews they make, but also for their large collection of National Geographic magazines.  It is the flagship of the Supreme coffee brand.  Another one under this umbrella is the Supreme Seafarers.  For my blogpost about that coffee shop, please click here.

Overall grade:  4.5/5.0

Unique charms:
  • It was once a warehouse, which has been renovated into a coffee shop
  • The posters on their walls show the customers the coffee making process
  • "Bare bones" industrial, minimalist decor; this style enhances their brand image.
  • Free water options: bubbly or still
  • There is a coffee tasting room that is open to the public on certain days of the week.  Good for new product test-runs.
  • The large National Geographic collection
  • Friendly staff

However, if you're someone who doesn't like the cold, you might want to take your coffee back to your office or accommodation, because after all, it is a warehouse, and the high ceilings mean a cooler indoor temperature - almost as cool as it is outdoors.  Nonetheless, don't forget that in summer months, this place would be cooler than outside, because of the very same high ceiling.

Impressive in its own right, but not quite reaching the same level as Kokako due to their lack of food options, but maybe they aren't aiming for that.  For my post about Kokako, please click here.

The National Geographic collection

A poster showing how different styles of coffee are made

The shop's tasting room

Pastries made by little and friday

Fill your own cup

Steel stools and steel tables

Street-side drinking

This is the flagship shop of the Supreme coffee brand

little and friday: no longer little and now everyday

The chain of cute pastry shops called little and friday has a humble beginning.  It was in a small place that only opened on Fridays - hence the name.

Nowadays, the shop has two main branches and the Good One coffee shop in Ponsonby also stocks and sells their products.  little and friday has become a local institution and the lines of people are often long; both for dine-in and take-away.

(For my blogpost about Good One cafe, please click here.)

My impression of the Belmont branch of little and friday is so:

Overall grade:  4.0/5.0

Unique charms:

  • Quick and friendly service
  • There is a warm-up option available when you order sandwiches and pastries.
  • Other places give you a small sign with a number on it so that the service staff knows to which customer they should bring an order.  At little and friday, they have small animal statuettes that are spray-painted yellow.  So instead of "Chocolate croissant for #43," it becomes "Chocolate croissant for the customer with the giraffe."
I had a small lemon meringue pie from here.  The meringue was fluffy and the crust had a bit of crunch to it.  However, I find most Kiwi pastries too mellow.  Normally, I prefer the flavours to be quite distinct.  Even though the New Zealanders don't make it the way I'm used to (as a Thai who studied in USA and France, I prefer bombastic flavours), I must say that overall, I can appreciate the style and flavour profile of a Kiwi baked product.  In that regard, little and friday nailed it.  A local would find the lemon meringue pie very tasty.  Perhaps the same could also be said of a visitor who isn't partial to big flavours.

The shop is in a small corner of a home decoration shop where you can buy things like cutlery.  This is the branch in Belmont.

A very packed vitrine

The mini lemon meringue pie I had.