Ending A Fine Chinese Dinner With Canned Longans Anyone? @ Toh Yuen, Hilton Kuching, Malaysia

Date of Visit:  September 18 2013

Toh Yuen is the in-house Chinese restaurant in Hilton Kuching.  I am guessing this restaurant is very popular with the business set (expensive) and had won quite a few tourism awards judging from the certificate it displayed very prominently on table at the entrance foyer.

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Toh Yuen’s Signage

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Entrance: Wall paper in Chinese calligaphy and little Chinese figurines flanking an tourism award certificate

Not a fan of dark dimly-lit restaurants, I worried that I might trip over uneven carpeting (again) – as I am still nursing my cut knee and ‘bruised wound’ of my ripped 3.1 Phillip Lim sandals that I’ve only worn for under 5 minutes  from the fall I suffered the other day (wounding more for sandals though).  Squinting my eyes to evaluate the interior design of the restaurant, I see red fabrics busily draped from the ceiling to the walls.    Some may call it ‘Chinoiserie-chic‘, but for the more imaginative – imagine a fabric-dye factory straight out a scene in a Chinese kung-fu movie where a swordsman come flying out from nowhere.   To further enhance the Chinoiserie-chic experience, lanterns with tassles and calligraphy-patterned wall-covering are used.

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Interior of main restaurant

Thank goodness we had a private room for dinner.   A brightly-lit festive room with a huge table with lazy-suzy, underneath a huge red lantern and calligraphy-patterned wall-covering for uniformity with the rest of the restaurant.  Even the red napkins and place setting evokes festivity in the room.  I instantly perked up.

On the table are the usual condiments of freshly chopped garlic and assorted chopped chili- red chili,  vinegared green chili, chili-padis.  We are also given sweet cooked soy sauce peanuts to snack on while waiting for the others to arrive.

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Place setting

First up, a Combination Platter of jellyfish, ham, rolled squid in beancurd skin, a salad of seafood mixed with melon topped with mayonnaise.  I am allergic to shell-fish so did not try the salad, not a big deal for me since I don’t like mayonnaise.  The things that I enjoyed most in the platter are the crunchy jellyfish and fresh cucumbers.

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Combination Platter

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Close-up of a few pickings from the assorted Combination Platter

We also had Chicken Soup with a few tough chicken pieces, red dates, fungus and ginseng.  It came piping hot and very tasty.   Something is telling me that this dinner is going to be very healthy… so let’s wait out!

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Chicken Soup

Steamed Cod in light soy sauce came next.  Our host asked whether we want rice to accompany our dinner.  None of us wanted any, and it seems that everyone is on a low-carb diet nowadays!  (Even older gentlemen! 😈 )

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Steamed Cod in light soy sauce

We also had Asparagus with whole garlics and fish jerky, which continued the health-vibe of our dinner.

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Asparagus with whole garlics and fish jerky.

Unfortunately for me, I could not try the Signature Buttermilk Prawns.  These are prawn balls deep-fried in buttermilk and very delicious I was told.  I did take a bite of the deep-fried basket the prawn balls came in to taste, let’s just say it’s for decoration.

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Buttermilk Prawns

Since dinner started late, at 8pm, we were very relieved when the dessert arrived.  Wait for it – Canned Longans in syrup added with coconut strips and fungus!  I find it very puzzling for a fine dining restaurant to be serving canned fruits.  Then again, I presume canned longans and canned lychees are made very popular  in Malaysia where the climate here is not inclined to producing these exotic fruits.

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Canned Longan

We also picked up a Hilton Kuching Red Bean Mooncake (RM24++).   A pretty pair of gold-fish embossed on salty baked skin infilled with sweet red bean paste and melon seeds.  It was ‘moreish’ – well, we were at Kuching airport, the Starbucks there didn’t cut it and we were hungry…

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Hilton Kuching Moon cake

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X-section: Hilton Kuching Moon cake

Mini Egg Custard Moon Cakes @ The Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong

Right when I thought I’ve eaten enough moon cakes for the year, another box arrived for me today.

This sturdy brown decagonal box had flown all the way into Borneo from The Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, just in time for the Mid-Autumn festival tonight! Much to the chagrin of my waist, my lips were etched into a grin as wide as The Cheshire Cat’s with my tastebuds leaping for joy! How could I reject these tiny babes from the much lauded bakery?

No, No, No! Diet will have to wait another day…

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The Peninsula Hotel’s Mini Egg Custard Mooncakes

Inside the decagon box are 2 layers of 4 mini moon cakes on plastic trays. Alas! They didn’t travel well…

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Minis on plastic tray

Broken pastry. *face-palm*

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Squashed mini resting in my palm

Tiny at only 40 grams, these broken babies still packed a punch!

Stop!

Don’t tell me these angelic babies in soft buttery pastry shells have the caloric value equivalent of one bowl of rice!

Hush! Ssshh… Don’t make me feel guilty by colluding my mind!

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Total Disintegration

I normally cut my moon cakes into eighths to share but seeing this moon cake is SO tiny, I went for the whole hog. And boy-oh-boy! This is one mean, rich, mini baby moon cake, I felt so stuffed after eating it. Taste-wise, it was delectably sweet custard with a tinge of the salted duck egg yolk, made from rich butter, coconut milk, eggs and condensed milk among the listed sinful ingredients on the packaging.

And how do we celebrate Mid-Autumn festival in the Boo, you ask? Well, we knocked off an hour early today, and besides that, I have nothing planned… I will need my ear-plugs because the neighbourhood will be erupting into fire-works late into the night… driving me bonkers and keeping me awake…

So I am definitely missing the spectacular Tai Hang Fire-dragon Dance in Hong Kong tonight. This is a festival that started all the way back in 1880 when Tai Hang was still a tiny Hakka fishing village near where Causeway Bay is now. I am also reminiscing the good old times when I had the privilege of being the first female dragon dancers in the troupe of over 300 performers by holding the pole which held the 67m long dragon made of 72,000 incense sticks. We were tasked to make the dragon come alive by waving and running with it. It was tough, the pole was heavy but a job well done! And I got a spot on TV! 5-second stardom! *sigh*

How does the Tai Hang Fire- Dragon Dance came about? I hear you ask.

Well, according to folklore, a few days before the Mid-Autumn Festival over a century ago, a typhoon, then a plague wreaked havoc on the village. While the villagers were repairing the damage, a python entered the village and ate all their livestock. Enough was enough, the villagers consulted a soothsayer who decreed that the only way to stop the chaos was to stage a fire dance for three days and nights during the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival. The villagers thus made a huge dragon of straw and covered it with incense sticks, which they then lit. Accompanied by drummers and erupting firecrackers, they danced for three days and three nights – and the plague disappeared.

If you are in Hong Kong (tonight or tomorrow night), do make an effort to see it. This smokey vibrant affair is China’s third national list of intangible cultural heritage!

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Fire Dragon in Tai Hang.
(Source: HK Tourist Association)

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival Everyone! xx

Steamed Rice Moon Cakes @ Sibu, Malaysia

4 more sleeps to the moon cake finale this Thursday night.  Hungry for more moon cakes but dreading the calories?

With a bit of creativity one can transform the unhealthy sweet guilty treats into something healthy.  What about steamed moon cakes that I got for tea today?

Steamed moon cake made from grounded rice and sesame  encasing the  yellow-peas paste (with possibly some cream cheese).

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Rice + Sesame Steamed Moon Cake Sibu-Style

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X-section

The rice and sesame layer is dry and crumbly as can be seen from the picture above.  Taste-wise, it is bland.  But for those on a diet and do not want to miss out, this will prove a saviour for this mid-autumn fest!  Ta-ta!

The ‘Fishy’ Case of the Yellowfish @ Yé Shanghai, TST, Hong Kong

Date of Visit: August 24 2013

On the occasion of mom’s birthday, we went to Yé Shanghai, a 2 Michelin Stars  establishment located on level 6 of Marco Polo Hotel, TST for a Shanghainese lunch. There are 3 hotels along the Canton Road all within the same complex (Harbour City and Ocean Terminal – and these are the only shopping mall you need to know/ visit in Hong Kong if you are short of time).

Upon entry to the restaurant, there is a very nice bar area dressed in eclectically moody dark timber, it was rather chic, no doubt making  an ideal place for pre-dinner drinks.   I would love to take out my camera to start taking pictures to show my readers, but since the restaurant was starting to get busy, I did not fancy to make a nuisance of myself.

We were seated at the main dining area at round tables instead of the timber-framed booth seatings. With french-windows on one side of the restaurant we got plenty of natural lights and views looking out to Hullet House (one have to look beyond the balcony area).

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My views

Once seated, the waiter gave me a baby stool for my handbag! This is what I call Michelin service!

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Baby stool for my bag!

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Bag perching prettily on stool

Condiments on our table

In Chinese restaurants there are usually condiments ready on the table which are  added on to the bill.  They are also available in bottles for sale at the door.

XO Chilli Sauce: Lots of baby shrimps and very spicy. There is no stopping me digging spoonfuls out of the container to pick at the tiny shrimps one-by-one

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XO Chilli Sauce

Dried turnip: Spicy and sweet. Love the crunchiness of the turnips dressed in fragrant sesame oil

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Dried turnip

There is a dim sum menu but we decided to rise to the occasion by ordering our favourites from the proper lunch menu.

We started with Typical Shanghainese Cold Appetisers.

Tea Leaf Smoked Flavoured Eggs: Most delicious. The orangey yolks were perfectly custardy surrounded by sweet smoky egg whites. We tend to order these every time we see them on the menu.

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Tea Leaf Smoked Flavoured Eggs

Huadiao Wine Marinated ‘Drunken’ Chicken. Another customary dish for us. The tender chicken came intact with skin and fat. The fat literally melted away when I chewed on the chicken. The wine was very strong and fragrant, it was too delicious to leave it alone… I drank by the spoonful!

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Drunken Chicken

Shredded Jelly fish with Cucumber: Crunchy and charred, the jelly fish was dressed in sesame oil. The cucumber was refreshing and for those needing a spicy kick, there is a badass mustard sauce for you to dunk your jelly fish in!

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Jelly fish with Cucumber

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Our table of cold appetisers

The Mains that we ordered…

Deep-fried Sweet and Sour Yellowfish with Pine Nuts: It was already deboned when it came to our table. While I liked the deep-fried fish very much – dense meaty fish yet not oily – I did not care for the thick tomato gravy at all because they were overly sweet and starchy. I don’t need extra carbs.

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Sweet and sour yellow fish with pine nuts

My tale of the  ‘fishy Yellowfish’:

Yellow-fish or Croaker is very scarce nowadays and reminds me of the trip to Putuo Shan (a sacred mountain near Ningbo, China) that I took with Mom and her BFFs nearly 10 years ago. While my aunts were checking out the fish to order for lunch, one of them pointed at a fish in a plastic basin to enquire the whether it is a yellowfish and the market price – immediately – the fish-monger grabbed the fish and knocked it out! WHACK with the butt of a chopper! KAPOW! 7-0-0- Ren-Min-Bi! Gone and poof! The most expensive fish we have ever eaten and up to this day, we still laugh about it whenever we order Yellowfish. Moral of the story? Never point, keep finger to self! Another gaff was that yellowfish is never caught alive, they die as soon as they are out of the water -duh!

If you are interested to visit Putuo Shan, here’s a link, but mind you EVERYTHING there is newly built!  The Red Guards had destroyed all the statues during the Cultural Revolution.  The Chinese were in a hurry to get the UNESCO cultural heritage grant when they started rebuilding the site- however,  I don’t think it was approved because it was more of a theme park with ghastly golden statues without originality about it, thus did not comply with ICOMOS guide lines.

Back to food…

Braised Shanghai Cabbage with Beancurd Sheets: Simple dish of wholesome goodness. Fresh baby bakchoy in chicken essence.

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Braised Shanghai Cabbage with Beancurd Sheets

Pork Belly with Steamed Bun. Now this is a ‘deconstructed’ pork belly bun which easily beats Momofuku’s and Ippudo‘s famous pork belly buns hands down!  A cute steamed white bun perching on the sweet, gingery pork belly which was warpped by a piece of pandanus leaf.  The tender pork belly literally melted in my mouth.   I used the white bun to mop up the delicious soy sauce.

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Pork Belly with Steamed Bun: Nice presentation

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Pork Belly with with good fat and pork ratio

Noodles with spring onions and soy: Since it’s Mom’s birthday, we ordered a Shanghainese street food, the simple noodles cooked in soy sauce with baby river shrimps and the ‘prized’ spring onions. The springy noodles were delectable. The soy sauce left a sweet lingering aftertaste.

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Noodles with spring onions and soy

Desserts

Typically Chinese desserts consist of boring sweet bean soups, puddings or to make things a little more interesting, deep-fried egg whites or bananas fritters!  However, I must say that I am very impressed with Yé Shanghai’s Western fusion.

Tofu pudding with basil seeds, mango and nato de coco and pomelo: A very ordinary looking pudding with pomelo on top corrugating in a sea of mango sauce, dotted with translucent nato de coco.  Lo-behold, a surprise awaits when we dug in, it was filled with basil seeds and mango! This was a yummy dessert with the clean refreshing tofu taste.

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Tofu pudding with basil seeds, mango and nato de coco and pomelo

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Hidden treasures of basil seeds and chunks of mango

Black Sesame Crème Brûlée with Roasted Peanut Butter Ice Cream: Not pretty to look at, but surprisingly tasty. The addition of grinded black sesame made the brûlée grainy, but gave a strong nuttiness and sesame aroma, pairing black well with the salty roasted peanut butter ice-cream. A modern Chinese-take on the French classic.

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Black Sesame Crème Brûlée with Roasted Peanut Butter Ice Cream:

Ginger Panna Cotta: A very simple Chinese ginger pud with bits of ginger in it.  Personally, I think the strawberries and mango sauce are more for presentation.

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Ginger panna cotta:

The waiter knowing that we are Shanghainese, recommended that we buy a box of their home-made Black Dates and Walnut Mooncakes ( $160 per box of 6).   We regretted that we only bought 2 boxes because it was really well-made with smooth black dates paste, which is very rare nowadays.  It take s a lot of work to get a smooth paste.   Moreover, this is an acquired taste for non-Shanghainese since it is ‘tartishly-sour’, slightly bitter with a hint of charcoal.

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Black Dates and Walnut Mooncakes

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Mooncake embossed with Ye Shanghai in Cantonese-style baked skin

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Black Dates and Walnut Mooncakes

Finally for our dinner at home which we celebrated again with Gran, Lucy (our helper) prepared  Abalone Chicken Soup Longevity Noodles and a hard-boiled egg for each of us.

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Abalone Chicken Soup Longevity Noodles

Moon Cakes So Tiny! @ Mandarin Oriental Hotel Kuala Lumpur

I have been a fan of Mandarin Oriental Hotel Kuala Lumpur’s chocolate-shelled moon cakes ever since it was first introduced to KL a number of years ago. I had chanced upon it by accident while staying at the hotel. From that chance encounter, I have remained loyal and will often grab a few boxes if I am in KL around the Mid-Autumn season for gifts and for my own sweet tooth.

However, this year I want to try other more ‘unusual’ creations that Lai Po Heen, the in-house Chinese restaurant of MO has to offer.

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Packaging for individual moon cake

Snow Skin Durian (RM18)
At RM18 a piece, this is the must be the most expensive moon cake I have ever bought – and IT IS TINY! The size of a Chinese chess piece! I am tempted to pop the whole piece into my mouth, but decided to nibble at it instead as to make the experience last longer. It has a strong durian fragrance and tasted durian-ish. However, the filling were not grinded fine enough, thus the rough texture about it. I couldn’t put my finger to the other binding agent until I ate a piece with residual lotus seed. There we have it, durian and lotus seed paste snow skin moon cake .

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Mini Mini Moon Cake!

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Snow Skin Moon Cake with MO’s Signature Fan Embossed

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Yellow Coloured Filling: Snow Skin Durian

The other 2 varieties I bought were MO’s medium-sized moon cakes at RM20 a piece.

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Slightly bigger than the mini…

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MO’ s signature fan is embossed on the moon cake

Chestnut with Melon Seeds ($20)
The paste has a rough texture with pieces of melon seeds. I tasted something caramel-ish, but could not make out any hint of chestnut.

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Brown Coloured Filling: Chestnut with Melon Seeds

Pandanus Essence and Macadamia Nut ($20)
This has a very strong aroma of pandan when cut open. It was otherwise a very bland moon cake. One would not know that it has macadamia nut paste filling unless one reads the packaging. It’s rough and kind of floury. Incidentally, MO uses palm oil which I have no issues with. Quite frankly, the boycott of palm oils in Western countries is ridiculous and simply a propaganda for rape-seed and soybean oil industries which are substitutes for palm oil. Palm oil is healthy oil. Palm trees does not cause any ecological damage to the environment since they do not require replanting annually unlike the rape-seeds and soybeans. The palms’ replanting cycle is 25 years.

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Green Coloured Filling: Pandanus Essence and Macadamia Nut

My verdict? Expensive and not well-made. The fillings have rough/ coarse texture which is disappointing especially when one is expecting the smooth ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ feel that is hallmark of a high-quality moon cake. Perhaps MO should think of purchasing a high-speed Vitamix blender. Moreover, the sizes of the moon cakes are very small which defy the Chinese tradition of cutting the moon cakes into quarters for sharing.

My parting comment is: “Ouch to my wallet!”

Canelés De La Luna @ Jean-Paul Hévin Chocolatier, Hong Kong

Jean-Paul Hévin is a Master Chocolatier and World Famous for his chocolates. Under the mentorship of chef Joël Robuchon in Paris, JPH received one of the top honors in France for artisan craftsmanship, the title of “Meilleur Ouvrier de France”.  I had walked past his counter boutique at Harbour City, countless times yet had never tried his creations. The formidable Mainland Chinese crowds bickering loudly in front of his counter full of delectable goodies (with their luggages in tow) made it rather intimidating for me.

With Mid-Autumn fast approaching (September 16), I saw an advert for Canelés De La Luna, part of his new Mid-Autumn creations to celebrate the festivity.

I love canelés and JPH is creating canelés!  Woohoo!

Seems that the stuffy French had caught on with Chinese festivities for a bang in the buck!  More appropriately the smell of money really do make the world go round and whatever intolerances nevertheless become slightly more tolerable when $$$ talks.  I also remember well when I was in Paris a few years ago, during the Lunar New Year whereby Galleries Lafayette gave an extra 10% discounts to all Chinese customers!

To cut the story short, I steeled myself and  literally fought to the front of the counter to be served.   JPH sells seriously high-end chocolates.  There is a choice of a box of 4 at $398 or a box of 8 at $768.   There are only 2 flavours available – citron and bergamot.

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Packaging of Canelés De La Luna

I was excited with the waft of heavenly chocolate aroma when I opened the box.

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Canelés De La Luna

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Box of 4 Canelés De La Luna

Excitedly, I cut opened one of the Canelés.  The excitement was short-lived…

Sure, JPH’s Canelés De La Luna has the right shape of a straight striated cylinder of a Canelés…

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Citron Canelés

Sure the dark glossy chocolate shell has the distinctive hallmark of a Master Chocolatier:  Exquisitely thin dark shell, cracking like an egg breaking when I cut it and the fragile chocolate shell literally melting to my touch, unfortunately, I could not discern any hint of citron or bergamot  flavours at all – despite me closing my eyes in deep concentration!

I love Canelés but this does not cut it.  This is an impostor!  I was  expecting a deliciously wholesome custardy goodness in a crunchy caramelised shell (possibly drenched in chocolalate).

In my opinion, this is simply a glorified Kellogg’s Rice Krispies!  Chocolate was first set in a Canelés mould then filled with ganache mousse in the first layer, followed by rice krispies and nuts in the center, then adding more ganache mousse before sealing the Canelés with chocolate.   Yes, each individual piece of rice crispy and nut has been premixed in chocolate  and were crunchy and very fresh, but at HKD100 per ‘Canale’!!   I think NOT!  Anyway, JPH is a chocolatier NOT a pastesserie!

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Cross-section of Canelés

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Bergamot Canelés

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Faux pax, a ‘hollow’ Canelés

I was  disappointed.  I was expecting a real Canelés but got a fine impostor instead!  I guess I have to travel to Bordeaux for my Canelés fix!