I have a serious, serious problem with breads in Hong Kong. Correction, I have a serious problem with “baked goods” in Hong Kong. There are all these lovely pretty cake shops selling cakes that look more like jewelry than food and above all, are less than meets the eye, but no proper boulangeries or patisseries that actually serve good bread, pastries, and cakes with a substance.
Especially pastries. I think pastries are gravely overlooked in Hong Kong. People are obsessed with pretty, crafty cakes so that cake shops and cake schools alike are overflowed with Hong Kong “OL”s who have no knowledge whatsoever in relation to cakes and probably have never cooked, and will never cook again, in their lives. There is first of all Zoe with their HK$30 odd-a-tiny-piece-cakes and freezing cold air conditioning, then there’s Teresa Festival with their inexperienced staff and minimal drinks selection, Antique Patisserie with their HK$50-a-piece-of-Happy-Birthday-sign-policy and Mandarin Oriental’s jewel-like cakes. Recently there is even a bakery which specializes in cupcakes that opened at Elements in Kowloon. There is nothing honestly wrong with these beautiful cakes except they lack the heart and soul that makes them interesting. Perhaps like the perfect man who, for me, requires that little deficiency in order to be “perfect”, so do food and especially baked goods precisely since its “prettiness” means so much.
Now you can imagine what pain this phenomenon brings to a self-confessed palmier lover like myself, and what a refreshing experience it was for her when she found the best palmier-like pastry ever at the new Tokyo Midtown. The Sacristain at “BE”, or Boulangepicier, in the basement of Tokyo Midtown is a long, stick-like pastry covered in molten sugar that tastes almost like caramel yet lacks the overpowering sweetness. In Hong Kong, pastries are often relegated to a mere breakfast snack at shops like Delifrance and Maxim’s and stuffed with all kinds of funny fillings like pork floss and curry chicken, yet at BE pastries and breads are given prime attention. Choose from a selection of savoury and sweet pastries and enough fine breads to make your mouth water. If that’s not enough for you, perhaps the fact that BE is part of the Alain Ducasse group and a quadruple chain, two branches of which are in Tokyo and the rest in Paris, will be enough for BE to redeem itself.
Just when I was reminiscing over the demise of Japanese ingenuity in the baking world, I was given a brief insight into the Parisien bakery scene and stumbled upon Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki and its variations on the macha theme. I guess the Japanese are still going strong after all.