Shanghai: CinnaSwirl and Pom Pom Cookie Bar

Cinnaswirl

CinnaSwirl’s Cinnamon Rolls

I sometimes take for granted that I live in Shanghai. I live in a unique city in China, which has an international and diverse group of expats. Because of this group of expats, there is an entrepreneurial spirit in the city and a real need to fill unique niches. That is precisely what CinnaSwirl and Pom Pom Cookie Bar does.

CinnaSwirl was founded by Heather, an American, who bakes the most delicious homemade cinnamon rolls. I never realized how truly American cinnamon rolls were until I suggested ordering six for my Dutch Asian American Pie Club (DAAPC). My Dutch co-workers had never heard of cinnamon rolls before and ate them for the very first time. They loved them.

When I think of cinnamon rolls, two very distinct memories come to mind. One is baking them at home from the Pillsbury dough (we are not a “bake from scratch” family) and the second is eating them at the food court/airport at Cinnabon. The problem is normally after you eat them, you feel like you need to take a nap and/or you have a brick in your stomach.

Look at that cream cheese frosting goodness

Look at that cream cheese frosting goodness

Heather’s cinnamon rolls are the best I’ve ever had. They are surprisingly light and fluffy and not too sweet. Her homemade cream cheese frosting is to die for. I literally wanted to order extra frosting and slather it on all my food. She has a physical store behind Jing ‘An temple at 32 Yuyuan Dong Lu (愚园东路32号), but I haven’t been yet. You can order them for same-day delivery through Mealbay. They are closed on Sundays though!

Chunk cookies from Pom Pom Cookie Bar

Chunk cookies from Pom Pom Cookie Bar

I miss good chocolate chip cookies. The type that are slightly crispy on the outside but chewy on the inside. Pom Pom Cookie Bar answers all of my cookie dreams. I’ve been wanting to try them for awhile, but all orders require ordering a batch of 18. I finally bit the bullet and decided to buy the chunk cookies, half milk chocolate and half milk chocolate with sea salt.

When the cookies were delivered, they were still warm. They had that beautiful butter and brown sugar batter with the absolute perfect consistency. The chocolate was rich but not too sweet. I personally liked the milk chocolate and sea salt ones better because of the savory and sweet combination. These cookies are amazing and taste like the ones you bake at home. I would gladly order another batch. You can pick different “mix-ins” like dark chocolate, hazelnut chocolate or white chocolate.

In Shanghai, the more well-known homemade cookies are from Strictly Cookies. While Strictly Cookies are also good, it’s a different style. They are more mound-like and thick. It’s a hefty cookie and she also sells giant cookie cakes, ice cream cookie sandwiches and raw cookie dough.

The only downside to Pom Pom Cookie Bar is that the owner, Katrina de Mirman, doesn’t do same-day delivery. Because her cookies are made-to-order (no store yet), you have to place the order by 7pm the day before. So if you’re totally craving a classic chocolate chip cookie, you’ll have to wait one day. But trust me. It’s worth the wait.

Shanghai: Brunch at Hakkasan and Café Sambal

Hakkasan Brunch: Crispy Duck Salad and Assorted Dim Sum

Hakkasan Brunch: Crispy Duck Salad and Assorted Dim Sum

Normally, brunch for me is classic Western food: eggs, bacon, pancakes, fresh juice, all of the above. But Shanghai has some wonderful brunch options for Asian food too. I recently experienced two great brunches in Shanghai, one at Hakkasan (5/F, 18 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu; 中山东一路18号5楼) and the other at Café Sambal (Block A, No 37, 259 Jiashan Lu; 嘉善路259弄37号A栋).

Straight from London, Hakkasan is a Cantonese-style restaurant on the Bund. If you want a nice meal on the Bund without having to pay an arm and a leg, dim sum brunch at Hakkasan is a great option. For 298 RMB (plus a service charge), you can get the crispy duck salad, soup, assorted dim sum, main dish, sautéed vegetables, rice, dessert, mocktail and tea. That is a healthy amount of food.

The crispy duck salad is Hakkasan’s signature salad and I can definitely see why. It is a light and refreshing mix of pomelo, pine nuts, duck, chopped shallots, lotus root and watercress. I could have eaten an entire bowl of that for brunch and been perfectly content. For dim sum, you can choose three steamed or three fried pieces. My girlfriend and I ordered one of each so we could see the assortment. There were some clever twists (deep-fried pumpkin dumpling with truffle oil) and also some classics (har gau). Truthfully speaking, it is not the best dim sum I’ve ever had in my entire life. I have really high standards though since dim sum is one of my all-time favorite past times and I used to live in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop us from eating it all.

Hakkasan's Sea Bass and Sirloin

Hakkasan’s Sea Bass and Sirloin

For our main dishes, I ordered the stir-fried black pepper Angus striploin cubes and my friend got the grilled Chilean seabass in Chinese honey. The beef was so incredibly tender and tasty. It had this wonderful caramelization on the outside while still being slightly spicy with the black pepper. It was some of the best beef dishes I’ve had in Shanghai. I was pleasantly surprised when the seabass arrived “char siu” way. I love BBQ honey pork and this seabass was served in the same style. I liked that the seabass wasn’t too sweet and had a nice crispy exterior.

Hakkasan Dessert

Hakkasan Dessert

Macaron Display

Macaron Display

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Shanghai: Liquid Laundry

Rotisserie Chicken at Liquid Laundry with Mac and Cheese and Creamed Corn

Rotisserie Chicken at Liquid Laundry with Mac and Cheese and Creamed Corn

I actually went to Liquid Laundry (KWah Centre, 2/F, 1028 Huaihai Zhong Lu; 淮海中路1028号, 嘉华房2/F) when they first opened a few months ago. While the space was cool, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the food. I told myself that I would go again but wouldn’t order anything from my first visit. I’m certainly glad I gave it a second chance because I found some really delectable dishes.

Liquid Laundry is by Kelley Lee, the same person who brought you Boxing Cat Brewery, Cantina Agave and Sproutworks. The space is huge, including dining area, lounge area, bar area and an actual brewery making the beer that is served in-house. It’s a very hip place and on the weekends, it’s absolutely packed. Be sure to make a reservation if you want to dine there for dinner.

Inside Liquid Laundry and the Beer Flight

Inside Liquid Laundry and the Beer Flight

On my first visit, I ordered the eggplant dip with flatbread, burrata cheese with duck proscuitto and salad and the Hannibal Lecter sandwich. I was so underwhelmed and disappointed. The eggplant dip had zero flavor (though the actual flatbread was good). While the cheese was delicious, the portion felt really small (about 50 g) and I didn’t really think it went that well with the duck and salad. The Hannibal Lecter sandwich was the best thing of the night– two mini pastrami sandwiches served with mustard and slaw. I did enjoy my drink though, a saffron gin and tonic.

For my second visit, I went with a much larger group of people with lent itself to trying and ordering more dishes. My friend and I split the rotisserie chicken. A whole chicken comes with all four sauces: Asian Persuasion, BBQ, hot and original (a half chicken comes with two sauces). I thought the rotisserie chicken was tasty, cooked well and the meat was tender. Out of the four sauces, I liked the Asian Persuasion sauce best and we even ordered a refill. For sides, my friend and I ordered mac and cheese and the creamed corn. Mac and cheese was solid, but I was in love with the creamed corn. The creamed corn had a hint of truffle oil in it (yum) and really nice corn kernels mixed in. I was so happy to see this because often times creamed corn looks like baby food. The kernels had a perfect crunch to them, which provided a great textural contrast to the dish.

Top Left: Seared yellowtail; Top Right: Fried chicken and biscuit; Bottom left: Porcetta; Bottom right: Hannibal Lecter sandwich

Top Left: Seared yellowtail; Top Right: Fried chicken and biscuit; Bottom left: Porcetta; Bottom right: Hannibal Lecter sandwich

Among the whole group, we ordered the seared yellowtail, fried chicken and biscuit, porcetta, pavlova and chocolate tart. I really loved the seared yellowtail appetizer. It’s quite small, but the fish is so delicate and fresh. They dress the fish with small pumpkin cubes, puffed black rice, pear, pine nuts, avocado and sliced jalapeño. It is seriously a flavor explosion in your mouth. There’s so much happening- spicy, sweet, crunchy, creamy, savory- all in one bite. It’s probably one of my favorite dishes they offer.

The porcetta was also stunning. The pork has that crispy skin and then this wonderful marbling of fat with the meat. My only concern is that it’s just too much to eat by yourself and it comes with absolutely no sides (probably forcing you to order sides). It’s a lot of meat on a plate and so I’d recommend sharing it.

Dessert! Pavlova on the top and Chocolate tart on the bottom

Dessert! Pavlova on the top and Chocolate tart on the bottom

Desserts were a smash. The chocolate tart was rich, creamy and smooth. I was really digging the pavlova. Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert, which normally has whipped cream or custard inside and is topped with fresh fruit. The outside needs to be crisp and airy but the inside needs to be softer and more marshmallow-like. I really like Liquid Laundry’s pavlova. It wasn’t too sweet and there was this custard/cream in the middle that I couldn’t get enough of. With the fresh fruits on top, I felt like it was summer on a plate. While the chocolate dessert was good, it was more ordinary. The pavlova is a dessert that you probably won’t find on many menus.

I would recommend Liquid Laundry as a cool place to take friends for a drink or gastro-pub meal. The place definitely gets loud so it’s not the best spot for a quiet, romantic night. However, could be a good place for a first date if you want to avoid awkward conversation!

Shanghai: Zotter Chocolate Theater

Shanghai's Zotter Chocolate Theater

Shanghai’s Zotter Chocolate Theater

On May 31, 2014, Austrian chocolate makers, Zotter, opened their own chocolate theater in Shanghai. Although I had never heard of Zotter chocolate before, I read about the chocolate tasting tour and knew that I had to check it out. Zotter Chocolate Theater (Shanghai International Fashion Center, Bldg 9, 2866 Yangshupu Lu; 杨树浦路2866号9号楼) is definitely a bit of a trek and in the middle of nowhere. I recommend that you take a cab so that you don’t get lost.

Cocoa Mass

Cocoa Mass

The tour starts with a 20-minute video where you learn more about the Zotter family and their chocolate roots. The company prides itself in being the only manufacturer in Europe who produces chocolates starting from the bean (bean-to-bar) exclusively in organic and fair quality. In the video, you see some of the cocoa bean farmers he works with and where he sources his raw materials from.

Bottom: Vegan chocolate mixed with different materials like almond, rice and coconut

Bottom: Vegan chocolate mixed with different materials like almond, rice and coconut

Our tour was led by a lovely woman who spoke Mandarin, Shanghainese, English and German. I was literally in awe of her language abilities. Everyone get a cute porcelain spoon to try the different chocolates. You first taste raw cocoa mass with absolutely no sugar or milk added. It’s extremely bitter. With each passing room, you get close and closer to the final product.

More tastings

More tastings

There are seriously so many different flavor combinations and it does feel little bit like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. They had combinations ranging from yoghurt and strawberries to even bacon. Zotter sell a lot of different chocolates and you basically get to try ALL the flavors, which is handy so you know what to buy afterward.

Drinking Chocolate Bar

Drinking Chocolate Bar

I think my favorite part of the tour was the drinking chocolate bar. Each member gets a small glass of hot milk and also picks a small chocolate bar. You set the chocolate in the milk for a few minutes and then mix it all in. I went with a simple flavor and picked vanilla bean, but they had flavors like banana and coffee too. Even though it was simple, I really liked my drinking chocolate because it had a rich vanilla bean flavor (you could even see the vanilla bean flecks) and then you could control the sweetness by adding more milk.

Choco Shot

Top Left: Mix and match your own chocolate; Top right and bottom: Choco shot syringes for sale

At the end of the tour, you enter the chocolate store. It’s honestly a little bit overwhelming since there are so many choices. In case you see something you don’t want, you can still customize your own combination on laptops at the mixing bar.

This truly is a tasting tour. I was expecting to see more of the manufacturing action and wanted to see the factory churning out chocolate bars. But, you don’t see that (unless it’s because I visited on a Sunday), and it’s really more of an opportunity to taste all their offerings. The tour is interesting and I did learn new things. I think it’s worth the 180 RMB/person. If you’re a chocolate fanatic, you’ll have a good time. I definitely recommend bringing a bottle of water or even a couple of crackers to try and break up all the sweetness and cleanse your palate.

Shanghai: Tock’s Montreal Deli and Brunch at Burdigala

Tock's - A Montreal Deli

Tock’s – A Montreal Deli

I miss sandwiches. That is possibly one of the things I miss the most in Shanghai. I miss having freshly baked bread that is crunchy on the outside but soft in the inside– piled high with sliced meat, sauce and veggies. Tock’s (221 Henan Zhong Lu; 河南中路221号) fills my sandwich needs by ticking off three out of four of those boxes. I have never been to Montreal so I can’t be an expert on what is a “Montreal Deli,” but I freaking love sandwiches and am an expert on those. Tock’s serves beautifully smoked meat sandwiches. You can order regular (150 g of meat) or monster (225 g). I love my meat and I love my sandwiches, but regular is honestly enough meat. I can’t imagine who can finish off a monster sandwich.

Duck Pastrami on a Montreal-style Everything Bagel

Duck Pastrami on a Montreal-style Everything Bagel

With your sandwich, you get an order of fries or salad. I would definitely recommend the Caeser salad over the fries. The salad was topped with croutons and bacon and the dressing actually tasted like Caeser dressing (and not just bland mayo). The fries were crispy, but I didn’t feel like they had much potato taste. For the bread, you can choose rye or a Montreal-style bagel. ORDER THE BAGEL. The rye is again, underwhelming. It’s kind of dry and lacks any rye bread taste. However, the Montreal-style bagel is to die for. Tock (yes, that is the owner’s name) explained to me the difference between a Montreal-style and New York-style bagel. Montreal-style bagels are boiled in water with honey and are a little bit more dense. That bit of honey makes for an awesome bagel because I like how the sweetness contrasts the saltiness of the meat. Also, when you order an everything bagel, there is topping on both sides (so key) just like a NY-bagel.

I ordered a smoked duck pastrami sandwich on a Montreal-style everything bagel and my friend ordered the smoked meat sandwich on rye. The duck pastrami was tasty but it was a lean cut of meat. I feel like it would be a good choice for someone who was looking for a “healthier” option. My friend thought his smoked meat sandwich was actually too fatty, but I could handle it without any issues. Next time, I think I would try the combination of smoked meats with smoked turkey pastrami. I think that would be the perfect combination of fattiness and meat. Finally, the key to the perfect sandwich is to order it with the spicy mustard. So yes, a smoked meat sandwich on a Montreal-style everything bagel with spicy mustard would be my sandwich of choice.

Shanghai: Burdigala

Shanghai: Burdigala

One of my friends had posted photos of her brunch at Burdigala (550 Wuding Lu;武定路550号) on WeChat. I am so glad she did; otherwise, I might not have found this gem. Burdigala is a wine bistrot with the goal to bring French wines to Shanghai and not charge a ridiculous amount. I found the atmosphere of the restaurant to be really cute and welcoming. There was some counter seating that would have been perfect a place to have a glass of wine with a friend.

Brunch at Burdigala

Brunch at Burdigala

For brunch, you can order à la carte, but the better option is to get the set price meal for 158 RMB. You start the meal with a vegetable salad (cucumbers, tomato, olives and ham) served in a glass jar and it is followed by cold cuts and plenty of baguette bread and a croissant. I know this meal looks simple, but it’s incredibly comforting. My friends and I used to have nights where we would literally just eat bread and cheese or bread and cold cuts/foie gras for dinner when we lived in Paris. After the meat and cheese course, you get roasted potatoes, a soft boiled egg with foie gras and a ham and cheese sandwich. The ham and cheese sandwich is so incredibly rich. You can tell that they grill that bread in delicious butter. If you weren’t full yet, you still get a jar of creamy yogurt topped with a fruit preserve.

With your meal, you also get to choose juice, tea or coffee. I would pass on the juice since it isn’t fresh and go for the tea or coffee instead. This brunch is definitely a bang for your buck because they’ll even refill your bread basket. Honestly, one order is enough to feed two people (although I don’t know how happy the restaurant would be if two people only placed on order) so it’s good place to go if you have an appetite.

Taipei: Beautiful Japanese Feast at Mitsui Cuisine

Taipei: Mitsui Cuisine

Taipei: Mitsui Cuisine

Since living in China, the food I miss the most is sashimi and sushi. I have had unfortunate reactions after eating sushi in this country– so I avoid it like the plague. When the best friend, Anne, suggested Japanese food in Taipei, I was all too eager. Anne’s mother recommended Mitsui Cuisine for their set lunches.

Hand rolls, sashimi and abalone salad

Hand rolls, sashimi and abalone salad

I wasn’t expecting Mitsui Cuisine to be so modern and posh-looking with its dark interior and marble counters. We went Saturday for lunch and I highly recommend making reservations because the entire place filled up. Anne and I both ordered the set lunch which came with sashimi, abalone or shrimp salad, cod fish, beef or lamb, nigiri, fish soup and a small dessert. I was anticipating a bento box and was absolutely starving so we both ordered an additional hand roll.

Steamed fish, nigiri and beef filet

Steamed fish, nigiri and beef filet

That hand roll was completely unnecessary. The portions were really generous and we got such high quality food at a reasonable price. The sashimi was beautiful and melted in your mouth with every bite. The abalone was also fresh and came with a small salad with corn. Anne ordered the fried fish and I ordered the steamed fish. I definitely thought the fried fish was a lot tastier than the steamed one (the steamed one also didn’t look super appetizing).

Fried fish and lamb chop

Fried fish and lamb chop

For our main dishes, I ordered the beef filet and Anne ordered the lamb chop. My beef filet was nothing special, but Anne’s lamb chop was absolutely amazing. It was tender, marinated well and had a beautiful caramelization since the fat had been rendered. I would have gladly eaten a whole rack of them. Our nigiri was just as good as our sashimi, but I almost wished it had come earlier (because I was getting really full and couldn’t truly appreciate it).

The last course (besides a small serving of fruit and apple crumble) was a clear fish soup broth that was the perfect end to the meal. The broth was so incredibly clean with no fat in it whatsoever and I was enjoying the slivers of ginger too. The soup with the ginger helped to digest the meal.

Judging by their business card and website, there are quite a few different Mitsui-related restaurants in Taipei. If they are all as good as Mitsui Cuisine, I would gladly eat at all of them. If I ever go back to Taipei, I will definitely make it a point to try and eat there for lunch again!