Handbags & Teabags

floral-teapot-pinkAnyone that knows me even remotely well will know I love a cup of tea. Have I mentioned this before? Sorry. But I do. Add cake in to the mix and I’m one happy lady. So, obviously, my favourite meal of the day is tea time – or afternoon tea, high tea, cream tea. Whatever you call it. I LOVE IT! Not that this is a meal as such. More of an event. In fact, I was have been asked if afternoon tea was something us Brits all had. Err.. no. But, wouldn’t it be fab if we could all go back to those Downton Abbey Days and luxuriate in afternoon tea at least once in a while. Straw-Handbags-Tokyo-2010-07-18-034

images (2)Which is why, last year, whilst still relatively new to Singapore I decided to invite a few ladies I’d met to join me for afternoon tea somewhere. A couple of them asked a friend or two. Before we knew it there was a big enough group of us to give  ourselves a name. So, may I introduce … drum roll please …

Handbags and Teabags or The Tea Ladies

Quite fitting for a group of expat women who like to scoff cake, drink tea  – and maybe a quaff a cheeky vino or two – whilst getting to know each other don’t you think?

imagesAs a group – with various people coming and going over the year – at no expense to yourselves, we have kindly spent our time trying out some of the best (and worst and quirkiest and unusual) places to have afternoon I_176447352_00_20121121tea here on our little red dot. All opinions expressed were personal. All taste buds were not hormone injected. All tea drunk was not organic. Any wine drunk may be well have been from the dark side. All prices quoted were what I could see without my glasses on.
Sometimes we may say we don’t like something – you might disagree. In which case, please tell us. Food critics we are not. If you’ve been somewhere good, do let me know. If you’ve been somewhere bad, tell me more.

imagesWe score each afternoon tea out of 10 – by teacups of course.

1 teacup = 1/10, it’s that simple.

So, put your feet up, stick the kettle on and have look at where we have been in the Time For Tea section of the blog.

2014-week-24-how-to-have-a-high-tea-673x480Calling all Afternoon Tea fans!

As we have lost a few people along the way thanks to this crazy transient expat life, we’re looking for some new tea drinkers. If you are a fan of afternoon tea, please get in touch, we’d love you to join us on our next Handbags and Teabags meet up which will be in December. Comment below and if you are interested in finding out more. 

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Just a little sweet treat

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As difficult as it may be to believe, the Handbags and Teabags ladies are quite busy. We don’t always have the time for a lovely, long, afternoon tea. But that’s not to say we don’t still want to have a natter over a cuppa and some cake.

So when we were invited to try out a ‘dessert cafe’ that promised to ‘sweeten our day’ we thought it was the ideal chance to do just this.

Velvet Confectionery is a little place tucked away just along the beautiful Robertson Quay. It would be very easy to miss it and, in fact, one of us did completely (next time Sara).  To find it you might be best to look for the ever popular Kith Cafe (which is just beyond the Pulau Saigon bridge) but don’t stop there, walk on just a few paces and you’ll find the Velvet Confectioner, right next to the SevenEleven. If you’re driving, head for Rodyk Street and you can park in The Watermark car park. Be warned though, the guys on the gate are sticklers for the rules so will ask which shop you’re visiting and ask you to get them to sign the slip to say you actually go there (hey, it’s Singapore).

Once you’ve found it though, take a seat and feast your eyes on the delights in front of you. There are only a handful of tables and chairs so space is limited, but it was pretty quiet when we went.

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Generous portions and good selection

Aniqa – the lovely Singaporean owner – started the cafe over a year ago. She told us that she bakes all the cakes herself and prides herself on adding just the right amount of sweetness to each one. Her bakes are known for not being overly sweet which is just what I like to hear as too much sugar in a cake just spoils it I think. She also offers customised large cakes and cupcakes.

With a cabinet brimming with delicious cakes we decided the only option was to choose a selection to share. Narrowing it down to just five cakes was difficult but in the end we opted to try the carrot cake, red velvet swirl brownie (one of Aniqa’s specialities), a chocolate cup cake, a wedge of Nutella cheesecake and a slice of the healthier sounding olive oil, lemon and yoghurt loaf.

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Refreshing ‘sparkler’ drinks

Alongside the cakes we were offered a selection of artisan teas and coffees or various cold drinks, including some very yummy sounding ‘sparklers’. You can even get a very cute babychino if your little one fancies a grown up looking treat. The presentation was simple with cute doilies and rustic boards and the helpings were generous.
But how did it taste?

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Red velvet swirl brownie

The carrot cake was a-ma-zing. We are all big fans of carrot cake and so are quite picky. This one hit the spot for sure. Just the right amount of walnuts, the frosting wasn’t too sweet and the sponge was beautifully moist. The red velvet swirl brownie was rich without being sickly and the fact it looks so dam pretty means you’re sure to try it. The Nutella cheesecake was sweet – and ideal for the chocolate lover.  The lemon yoghurt loaf was the kind of cake you want to take home and eat at leisure with a whole pot of tea. And the cup cake? Well, we never got to try it as we were all so full up.

The Nutella cheesecake

The Nutella cheesecake

We sat there for over an hour chatting about cake and eating cake and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Very relaxed – in fact, we were the only customers so no hassle to move on. Our only gripes were there was no toilet (I assume there must be a public loo along the river, but couldn’t locate it) and it’s pretty hard to find. We would suggest a bigger sign outside for people to spot from the river walk.

Overall, we agreed this little bakery/cafe/dessert restaurant is worth looking out for if you are in the area. Proper home baking and the fact you can get occasion cakes too makes it worth knowing about.

We couldn’t score it though as it can’t really be compared to a high tea at the big hotels. Suffice to say we are still talking about the gorgeousness of that carrot cake though!

The Velvet Confectionery
7 Rodyk Street,
01-30 Watermark @ Robertson Quay
238215
Tel: +65 6238 6234
http://www.velvetconfectionery.com

Rose Veranda at The Shangri La

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The Shangri-La (there are two, this one is in the city, just off of Orchard) is one of my favourite hotels in Singapore so I’d been keen to try out their afternoon tea for a while. The ‘high tea’ is very popular and is served in the Rose Veranda lounge. The grand sweeping staircase that leads to the Rose Veranda is a good indication of what to expect.

There were quite a few of us so we were given a long table right in the middle of things. Low, comfy chairs (maybe a bit too low?) and large tables on which to stack up your plates of goodies. Personally I prefer a round table as it’s more sociable. But, as I say, there were quite a few of us.

IMG_5025To begin we were given a complimentary glass of amber coloured liquid which was delicious. It was some kind of tea, but am not sure what (the waitress did tell me, but the old brain doesn’t seem to retain that kind of info anymore!) We were also handed a tea menu where there were over 150 teas to choose from. I’m sorry, that’s TOO much choice, even for the fussiest of tea drinkers. We all deliberated far too much (actually, most of us glanced at it, saw how long it was and gave up!)

In the end I chose from the ‘recommended tea’ page and went for a New York Afternoon Tea. It wasn’t great; quite bitter and not refreshing. I asked to change it to an ordinary breakfast tea and was told that this wasn’t allowed – you choose you tipple and you stick with it. However, I must have looked a bit sad as they did change it, so all was good. One of the Handbags and Teabags ladies chose a delicious smelling fruit tea that many oohed and aahed over so maybe I should have been a bit more adventurous?

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Delicious dim sum and pork buns.

On to the food – wow!
The selection was amazing. In fact, it was more like a full buffet lunch than an afternoon tea. From dim sum, pork buns and sushi to finger sandwiches, individual quiches and individual glasses filled with caesar salad – oh, and not forgetting the Turkey station, laksa and curry dishes. There really was something for everyone.

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A wide choice of sandwich fillings.

The sandwich selection was a nice change with traditional egg mayo and chive sitting prettily next to funky eggplant, sundried tomato and arugula. Some of them were open sandwiches, some were dainty little triangles. I tried the shredded smoked chicken with avocado and the egg mayo – both hit the spot perfectly. Whilst you are eating the staff come round with taster dishes too. We were offered a cold soup – similar to gazpacho, but it wasn’t to my taste.

The sushi bar was easy to miss as it's tucked around a corner.

The sushi bar was easy to miss.

There was so much to choose from with lunch it’s tempting to eat too much and not leave room for the desserts. Now that WOULD be a big mistake. Just from looking at the selection you could tell it was going to be good – and it didn’t disappoint. Where to start?

The chocolate fountain with fruit kebabs? A perfectly sliced piece of cake? The trays of macaroons? An individual pot of yummy looking mousse? Some ice cream with one of the many toppings? So many cakes, so little time.

Everything is prettily displayed with a chocolate fountain taking centre stage.

Everything is prettily displayed with a chocolate fountain taking centre stage.

In the end I opted for the daddy of all desserts at afternoon tea – the scones. Hidden under a silver turin the scones were bite-size pieces of heaven. With the choice of plain or raisin I had to try both (I owe you that much right?) along with a generous dollop of jam and cream. They were delicious. All of those who had them agreed they were sooo good.

I also tried the chocolate cupcakes which were moist and rich and the creme brûlée which had just the right crunch. One of us adored the tiramisu and there were noises coming from the lady eating the pumpkin and raspberry shortcake. Everyone found something they liked.

cakes

All the cakes are pre-portioned on their own daily plate.

All in all the selection, quality and quantity on offer was amazing. The beautiful china tea pots, the delicate cups, silver spoons and pretty napkins all added to the traditional ambience of the afternoon. The room was noisy enough to be able to have a good old natter and the big windows meant the room was full of light.

A lovely final touch was when I was presented with a beautiful birthday cake, a signed card along with a photo of our group and a round of happy birthday. All quite unexpected as my birthday was the month before. It seems the original date (we had to postpone it previously) was my birthday and they’d taken note of it. Just what the Shangri-La do best; personal service.

We were all having such a lovely time that before we knew it we were being asked to vacate the table (they have two sittings so you only have the table for a couple of hours). We decided rather than rush of we would head downstairs to the rather Lobby court and treat ourselves to a cocktail. A perfect end to a lovely afternoon.

It was there we compared notes and agreed this was the best yet. We tried hard to criticise, but everything was just lovely. Our only complaint? The loos were too far away from the restaurant. But really, that was it. If you’re looking for a lovely setting, plenty of delicious, food to choose from and a comfy setting, this is your place.

What, when, where, how much?

High Tea Buffet
Monday to Sunday.
11:30am-2pm and 3pm-6pm
The Shangri-La Tower Wing
22 Orange Grove Road
Tel: +65 6737 3644

http://www.shangri-la.com/singapore/shangrila/dining/bars-lounges/rose-veranda/

$48++ per person.

Overall score from The Handbags and Teabags Ladies:
a whopping…

imagesimagesimagesimagesimages imagesimagesimagesimages(out of 10)

Four Seasons

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The Four Seasons hotel is a luxury five-star hotel and home to the One-Ninety Bar which claims to offer “afternoon tea with a twist.” What’s the twist we wondered?

As we all gathered in the dimly lit bar ‘by’ Javier de las Muelas it felt as if we were there too early. Perhaps the creative partnership of Muelas serves its purpose well with martini’s flowing in the evening and a no doubt stylish crowd mingling amongst the spacious bar and outdoor area (they call this the Terraza). But, during the day it felt dark, heavy and too sombre.  This is possibly a bar best seen at night.

But there we were and afternoon tea is what we were after. The waitress gave us the menu and there was an impressive selection of teas to choose from. If you like fancy tea that is. For those of us who wanted a bog standard English Breakfast tea, or even an Earl Grey it seemed we were scuppered. Perhaps we should have opted for one of the amazing concoctions on offer; they certainly sounded delightful.

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We all agreed these teas sounded lovely, but were not what we wanted with our sandwiches and cakes.

But, following a small panic by my mum – who was visiting from the UK and would win any award for tea drinking there is – we managed to get a pot of perfectly acceptable English Breakfast tea. She was happy. The rest of the tea drinkers were fairly conservative in their choices too with Earl Grey being the most adventurous. The coffee drinkers were well catered for too with latte’s, cappuccino’s and flat whites readily available.

The traditional three-tiered stand was soon to arrive, carrying what looked like a delectable section of finger sandwiches, pastries and scones (oh or o, I don’t care!) There were salmon, cheese, ham and egg sandwiches to choose from. Nothing amazing in the fillings and not really what you’d expect from a five-star hotel but they tasted fine so no complaints.

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The tiered stand looked very pretty with its glass cups of strawberry mousse perched on top and macaroons nestled next to tiny little chocolate and raspberry bites, as well as some quirky champagne flute shaped cookies. There were also some rather large cupcakes brimming with fondant.

Of course the obligatory – in our opinion – scones were there with small dishes of clotted cream and jam to accompany them. It all looked pretty good.

But, and it’s a but that needs to be butted.

It all looked lovely. But tasted – meh!

Nothing blew any of us away. The macaroons were ok; they had a nice pistachio taste but were no deal breaker. The mousse was pretty bland, the chocolate and raspberry bites IMG_2347had those awful silver balls on top that you find on kids cakes that can break your teeth. The cupcakes were all show really. Even the champagne flute cookies weren’t particularly tasty. In fact, the icing on top also smacked of a children’s party. Again, not what you’d expect from a five-star hotel. The scones were ok, not too dry and had some fruit inside, but nowhere near enough jam or cream is provided. In fact, had we not all been such a polite bunch, a fight could have broken out over who had too much cream.

According to the website there is a show pantry “with a variety of exquisite pastries.” We weren’t told about or shown this and certainly didn’t get offered anything from anywhere else. We were also not offered more than one pot of tea, which is poor. Although had we asked, I’m sure they would have accommodated. Unfortunately the staff weren’t that easy to find so top ups were not really an option.

Some of our group opted for the additional $20 for a cocktail, and for $30 you can go for a glass of champagne with your afternoon tea. The standard afternoon tea was $42 – this seems a fair price for the quantity of food and is pretty average for Singapore.

Overall, the company made the afternoon worthwhile. Everyone felt they had got their money worth and although disappointed with the flavour of the food that day, the look of it was lovely. But, the afternoon tea was just a sideline really; never the star of the show, which is a shame.

This is definitely a bar best seen at night. Oh, and the twist? No idea! *

What, when, where, how much?

Classic Afternoon Tea
Daily, 2-5pm.
One-Ninety Bar and Terrazzo by Javier De Las Muelas *
The Four Seasons Hotel
190 Orchard Boulevard
Tel: +65 6734 1110

http://www.fourseasons.com/singapore/dining/bar/one-ninety_bar_and_terraza_by_javier_de_las_muelas/

$42++ per person. More for cocktails and champagne.

Overall score from The Handbags and Teabags Ladies:

imagesimagesimages (out of 10)

* Maybe the twist is the ridiculously long name?

10 Scotts

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10 Scotts, is the place to go at the Grand Hyatt, for afternoon tea – or high tea as they call it. 10 Scotts is just one of the hotels five dining options. The setting is cosy and informal, but elegant. They seem to be aiming for a modern but homely setting basing the restaurant on a house theme – albeit a very grand one. We were sat in the ‘verandah’ which is apparently right by the five metre waterfall (sorry, we didn’t really notice it, just looked like a water feature outside the window), but you also could sit in the dining room, living room or library.The library looked like a cosy place to be and somewhere I’d definitely head to if I wanted a quiet chat with a good friend over a cuppa to escape the hustle and bustle of nearby Orchard. Our table, with comfy chairs and benches and squishy cushions was nice and big with plenty of room for pots of tea and trays of scones.

As I arrived after some of the party I was unaware that there was the option of a buffet AND the tray of high tea goodies at the table. In fact, those that were already there weren’t sure either. I was immediately offered a wide selection of tea and coffee to choose from. I opted to start with good old English Breakfast as hadn’t had my fix for the day. The pots were complimented on as there was no annoying drips or spillage as you poured. Although for me, tea should be served in a china pot.*  Yes, I know this sounds picky, but sometimes it’s the little things that make something stand out from the crowd.

After a little confusion over whether we should go up to the buffet or wait to be served, we were brought a two tiered stand full of interesting asian inspired delicacies. This is definitely not your typical afternoon tea.

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The crab cakes were a hit.

On offer were curry puffs, baba ganoush and crab cakes, Singaporean spring rolls; along with tiny smoked salmon sandwiches and a modern twist on the ham and cheese sandwich, as well as a few canapes. Everyone agreed the crab cakes were delicious, as were the curry puffs. In fact, all of the treats were flavour full and there was a good selection.

You are also served warm (nice touch) scones with jars of clotted cream, raspberry jam and kaya jam. The scones were gorgeous – soft and buttery with the right amount of sultanas for me. I forgot to try the kaya jam, which is a shame as I’m sure it would have worked well. But, the raspberry jam and cream hit the spot perfectly.

10 Scotts high tea buffet

The buffet – is this lunch or afternoon tea?

The buffet – which you can have as well as all of the above – offered a strange mix of curry, bread and cheese, cold cuts, treat size custard tarts (yummy), macaroons, chocolate mousse and other sweet treats. It felt more like a small lunch buffet than an afternoon tea, and for me, I don’t think it worked. It was as if they are trying to cater for two things at once.

My friends agreed, this wasn’t the traditional British afternoon tea any of us were expecting. Although the non Brits amongst us weren’t really sure what to expect. However, it is great value for money. The staff are happy to keep topping up the stand and you can help yourself to the buffet as often as you like. For another twenty bucks (ish) you can get free flow champagne too. A few of us were driving so we stuck to the tea and coffee. Next time though!

The service was a tad slow. A few times when we needed something no-one was around to help. They were also a little shy in explaining exactly how the afternoon tea worked. (If we’d known the buffet was included we would have tried that out first and then had the tray maybe?) Overall we had a lovely afternoon. We were surprised at the time when we were asked politely to vacate our table for the second sitting. But, as this was our first outing as Handbags and Teabags we were frugal with our praise. Watch this space to see if our next afternoon tea will hit the mark.

*I swear I was NOT this posh before I became an expat wife! Now I could almost be the Queen…

What, when, where, how much?

Afternoon Tea
12-2:30pm or 3-5pm.
Monday to Sunday.
10 Scotts at The Grand Hyatt Hotel
10 Scotts Road, Singapore, 228211
Tel: +65 6732 1234

http://www.singapore.grand.hyatt.com/en/hotel/dining/10SCOTTS.html

$43++ per person. More for free flow champers.

Overall score from The Handbags and Teabags Ladies:

imagesimagesimagesimagesimages (out of 10)

Time for Tea

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So, what is afternoon tea?

According to afternoontea.co.uk it is a tea-related ritual, introduced in Britain in the early 1840’s. It composed of sandwiches (cut in to ‘fingers’), scones with clotted cream and jam and sweet pastries and cakes. (Although in actual fact scones didn’t start out as part of a traditional afternoon tea, they came along in the 20th century).

Afternoon tea was basically something to fill the gap between breakfast and dinner, as more often dinner would be served later in the evening in well-to-do households. It started in the home and was more of a ladies social occasion and soon became a social event within hotels and then elegant cafe’s. In fact, this tradition carried on until the 1970’s when cafes started becoming self-service and hotels started to find other ways to tempt customers.

Luckily for us, the 1990’s saw a renewed interest in afternoon teas with tea shops and little cafe’s offering the traditional afternoon tea to all. And it’s really caught on. In the UK at least, it’s a blooming trade.

High tea? Is it the same thing?

High tea came about from the industrial areas of the UK and was what the working classes called their evening meal. With money tight – and tea expensive – the working classes couldn’t afford to waste their precious tea. So, they would have it with their evening meal and this would be as soon as the worker (more often than not, the man of the house) got home. It typically included a mug of tea, bread, vegetables, cheese and sometimes meat.

imagesIt’s suggested that the ‘high’ part of the name came from the table it was eaten at. As people sat at their dining table to eat it. Whereas afternoon tea was taken sitting in comfy chairs or sofas at low tables.

Funnily enough, the upper classes took high tea too – this was the tea they had when the servants weren’t around to cook them dinner. Something they found easy to prepare themselves. So it would be the same as the working class high tea but with the added ‘posh’ bits of pigeon, veal, salmon and fruit. Oh it’s all so Downton Abbey isn’t it?

Which explains why 10 Scotts (and others) include bread and cheese and meat in its afternoon tea. Really, it’s just a mix up of terms and types of meal. But hey, we’re not complaining right?

And a cream tea? Well, that’s just the cup of tea with a scone, cream and jam. Popular in Devon and Cornwall; but only due to the cream used, not the tea taken. Get it?

And so what about the staple part of any afternoon/high/cream tea nowadays? The stately scone. On our first outing the Teabag and Handbag Ladies had a debate on the correct way to say this word.

Is it scown or scon? (phonetically speaking now)

The Scots amongst us were adamant it was scon, the English said as there’s an imagese with the o the ‘oh’ sound is produced, and therefore it’s scown. The American just laughed and said “you lot are so weird.” She called them biscuits anyways and didn’t care if they had sultanas, cherries or cheese in. Either way, we all agreed it was vital to the tea’s success.

Other vital parts of a modern day afternoon tea?

The Brits thought sandwiches – of any type – were expected. Our Brunei friend agreed – and shared that in Brunei, most families she knew still had afternoon tea daily. We all oohed and aahed at this. Dainty pastries and cakes should be included we felt. These can be anything from a dainty custard tart, finger of carrot cake or tiny apple pie to a modern cheesecake or funky pie that’s unique to a venue. As long as it’s delicate and can be popped in to the mouth, then it’s worthy of an afternoon tea tryout.

getty_rf_photo_of_various_teas_in_white_cupsThe tea. Well, there has to be options. Teabag and Handbag Ladies like English Breakfast, Early Grey, Jasmine, Green and Mint tea. And we’re open to trying more.

Some of us are really risqué and have a latte – we’re so avant-garde!

The ambience, china used, type of cake stand, teapot (drippers and dribblers are a definite no-no) and extras offered all add to the experience. Each place has their own take on the afternoon tea and that’s great. But keep the basics there and you can’t go far wrong.  Or can you?

Whatever your preference though, there’s an afternoon tea out there for you. You’ve just got to try a few to find out what you really like. That’s what the Teabag and Handbag Ladies are about. Give it a go. Once you’ve tried one though, do let me know.