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.
In summary, PL’s crème brûlée is above average. Passable but quite literally not crème de la crème.
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.
oh dear. like u, ive nv explored hk’s sweet pastry scenes, because ive always felt that its local desserts tasted so good, and there didnt seem to be many well-known french styled desserts shops. cant wait for ur other reviews if u did visit more. 🙂
May 29, 2012 at 9:07 am
yeah, I always chose tung shuei stalls over frenchy desserts in Hong Kong, partially because I felt the standards for pastry making in Hong Kong ain’t really quite there yet. More reviews coming up indeed. More positive sounding ones for sure!
May 29, 2012 at 4:56 pm
Thanks for the great review. This saves us the disappointment. This is a case of never judge the book by its cover.
May 29, 2012 at 3:35 pm
You are welcome Veronica! It’s just a pity that they don’t taste as good as they look…
May 29, 2012 at 4:55 pm
Haha… Macawrong. love that.
Just goes to show you… looks can be deceiving.
May 29, 2012 at 4:47 pm
Yes indeed, Wendy! But I couldn’t resist anything vaguely ispahanish… LOL
May 29, 2012 at 4:54 pm
Must have been a bit akward to slice open that macaroon looks pretty tall but still the presentation is beautiful. Great to read your honest reviews any establishment needs them to improve all your pictures came out lovely as well. 🙂
May 29, 2012 at 4:58 pm
yeah, the least i could do is to take good photos of their pastries! they look good despite not tasting good!
July 12, 2012 at 12:16 am
I like your review. You really described it very well, and I can really feel your disappointment. Thanks for sharing your view.
May 29, 2012 at 9:22 pm
Thanks jane! 🙂
July 12, 2012 at 12:16 am
I honestly love your review about Paul Lafayet. Pictures were so nicely taken and awsome write up, keep it up! ;DD
May 30, 2012 at 11:38 am
July 12, 2012 at 12:16 am
I am quit frustrated to read that as PL is my favorite pastry shop in HK. And upset that people would not have the curiosity to go try. For years in HK we had pastry shop only in some hotels which, those, were disappointing. Then I was glad to finally find a very decent pastry shop which let me enjoy the cakes as much as I did in France. True, the blueberry dome for example has nothing specia; but the creme brulee, even if it has a simple look, is delicious, the craquelin and green tea cremoso are amazing.
Thanks for sharing your opinion. However I hope some people will have the same curiosity as I had to try this patry shop and be glad to do so.
July 11, 2012 at 4:12 pm
well, I can’t say much about the creations that you’d mentioned, i.e. blueberry dome, craquelin and green tea cremoso because I didnt try them. But I did have the pieces which I’d featured in the blog. To me, a good pastry chef needs to be grounded in the fundamentals. And creme brulee, rhubarb crumble and macarons are part of the fundamentals and should not be messed up. The creme brulee was decent but not spectacular. They heavily stinge on the vanilla seeds which dampened the tasting experience. Perhaps I’d been spoilt by much better creme brulee elsewhere. The rhubarb crumble was also decent but the crumble layer was too oily for my liking. But their raspberry and rose macaron was very very bad IMO. The level of sweetness was very carelessly handled making the piece almost inpalatable. This is the first time in my life that I couldn’t finish a macaron. And Pierre Herme, Laduree, Aoki, Gerard Mulot, Jean Paul Hevin etc… I’d tried them all. So that macaron was really bad. I’m not saying that all their stuff are bad. Just these pieces I’d tried definitely needs to be reexamined again.
Sorry to have caused you to be frustrated when reading this, but I have to stay true and truthful to my readers. I can’t be covering up all these glaring idiosyncracies and blog about how good the service was or how friendly the staff had been. The food needs to justify for itself and in the case of Paul Lafayet, I’m sad to say that I’m not convinced at all. Then again, these are just my personal opinion. Perhaps the others would have better luck with their pastries and would hopefully, like what you’d said, be curious to try it out on their own. 🙂
July 12, 2012 at 12:10 am
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