I’m sure you must be sick of posts starting with ‘another thing I love about Hong Kong’ but ANOTHER thing I love about Hong Kong is the humble tea set. Usually served between 2.30-6pm at upscale restaurants and chan chaan dengs alike, they generally consist of a drink and snack-type main that’s a little lighter than the ones available at lunch – and at around half the price! Obviously, this is because most normal people are beavering away at work but for layabouts like me, living the life of leisure and not seeing daylight before 12pm anyway, it’s a perfect brunch-style compromise! And the tea set at Simplylife Bakery Café is one of the best around.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s nicer than both their lunch and dinner menus! I’ve eaten at Simplylife many times and enjoy their laidback casual café style but, despite an emphasis on quality ingredients, generous portion sizes and decent value, the meals themselves tend to be a bit hit-and-miss. Their European-based cuisine sounds great on paper, with healthy-sounding salads and pastas and hearty but modern meat and veg combinations dominating, yet all too often the food itself is slightly bland and underwhelming. However, their tea set is the tops.
When I was at school, a new café opened in town called Panini that served… well, I think you can guess. But it their pancetta and mozzarella croissantini that stole my heart and which, five years on, I still get pangs for. Basically, a croissant filled with thin slices of pancetta and mozzarella – how hard can it be?! Yet the blend of flavours was amazing – the buttery sweet flaky croissant, the salty crispy (when toasted) pancetta, the soft creamy mozzarella… swoon. It tasted just as good toasted as cold and my friends and I used to nip down in our free periods (£2.99 each and we’d practically buy up their entire stock) and polish one off just on the walk back! I could get through three a day given the chance. Alas, Pannini closed down, taking my beloved croissantini with it and although I tried to replicate it at home, it never tasted quite the same. I’ve never found anything like it before or since, until…
The tea set at Simplylife (yes, believe it or not, that story was headed somewhere). Unfortunately, they don’t make pancetta and mozzarella yet – although hopefully the head-chef is reading now and thinking that sounds like a good idea! – but what they do offer are toasted croissants with a variety of fillings, plus chips and a drink, for just $48 (plus 10% service charge)! AMAZING.
The moment I tried the peppered roast beef and mozzarella croissant, I was instantly taken back to munching my way through those heavenly croissantinis in the sixth-form common room. Yes, it’s not pancetta but the roast beef is almost as good – and you already know how much I love roast beef! – tender, rich and thinly-sliced with a nice kick to it thanks to the pepper. The mozzarella and croissant combo was just as good as I remembered and altogether, it’s a delicate but perfectly mouth-watering balance… seriously, someone needs to spread the word of filled croissants around the world and I’m a signed-and-sealed disciple! They’re just so much lighter and tastier than a boring old soggy sandwich.
AND it comes with chips. Not just two or three but a decent serving of thick-cut crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside golden delights. You can either have them plain or with a spicy seasoning, which is utterly more-ish – not quite as good as Nando’s peri-peri but it’ll do nicely!
They don’t just do croissants though. Still all at $48, their tea set also includes sandwiches, baguettes and, probably the most popular item, a 4oz baby cheeseburger, either with bacon or a Portobello mushroom. I say baby but my boyfriend actually thinks it’s the perfect size – rabbit food kept to a minimum and easily finish-able! He liked the bun and said the beef patty was juicy and moist without covering him in its juices. By now, you’ll all know he’s the chip fiend around here but you might not know that he’s also the spice fiend, so the spicy chips pleased him immensely!
The tea set comes with tea, coffee, a soft drink or the daily Simplylife special iced tea. Whenever I come, it’s usually something unappealing, like chrysanthemum (the perennially-hated accidental purchase when you meant to buy a carton of lemon tea), hibiscus or grapefruit. This time, however, it was apple! Tasting like slightly bitter cold apple juice, it was something a little bit unusual and nevertheless rather refreshing.
For an extra $10, you can add a sweet – this time, a choice between cheesecake or brownie. It’s a pretty small portion but the just-right ending to a light but still filling meal. Of course, I can never pass up chocolate and although their brownie is heavy claggy work, it’s supremely earthily chocolate-y yet still not too sweet.
I really like Simplylife’s chilled vibe and its contemporary feel, all black furniture and clean crisp lines. They’re owned by Maxim’s, the bakery behemoth in HK (who also own Starbucks!), hence making Simplylife’s aptitude at producing bread that doesn’t taste like it substituted sugar for flour even more surprising; in fact, they’re pretty renowned for the quality of their breads, pastries and cakes, which I sadly haven’t had much chance to try, although they always look and smell wonderful. [Many of these m.a.x concepts restaurants have this same modern funky vibe, like Rice Paper, Simply Thai and Thai Basil – look out for paper menus, one of their signature elements!]
The Tai Koo branch has an indoor area with an open kitchen, yet also an “outdoor” section (inverted commas as this is all in a mall!) which staff refuse to open at tea-time even when there’s a queue, otherwise known as happily turning away business – imagine what Lord Sugar would say!
I would love Simplylife even more if they served this tea set all day, every day, all hours! They change to a more lucrative set menu for weekends and alas, the croissants don’t form part of their regular set lunch, so we have to time our visits with precision. Frankly, the sooner the world is converted the croissantinis the better – and whoever manages to make me a pancetta and mozzarella one, you’ll have a customer for life! But in the meantime, the tea set at Simplylife definitely has my vote.
Simplylife Bakery Café, Shop 142A, 1/F, Cityplaza I, 18 Taikoo Shing Road, Tai Koo, Hong Kong, 2967 8163
Ohhhh man I miss afternoon tea. I’m reading too many HK-related things today. Can’t wait 6 whole months to come visit!!