Sunday, 21 February 2016

Dessert bar by Sift - My Valentine's concession

Valentine's Day is the one day of the year that I avoid booking at a fancy restaurant like the plague! I'm not sure what you think, but in my experience, it's the one day of the year where there is so much pressure on a restaurant to get it right, and people's expectations are way too high.  You have desperate couples looking for that perfect meal to celebrate their (sometimes) perfect relationships. I also really don't love the set menu options filled with crap that I'd normally not love to eat, all shaped like love hearts - blergh!

So we grabbed a quick pizza for Valentines day!

But this post isn't about pizza or even Valentines day, although I will admit, that it's a funny coincidence that we hit up a specialist dessert bar on that one day of the year where there is a special connection with desserts!

We were walking home from our cheep and cheerful pizza dinner, when we decided that we wanted some dessert to finish off the evening.  Now, I love the pizzas at Pizza Express (see post here), but their desserts leave a lot to be desired.  So, it was onto my trusty Open Rice iPhone app to see where the closest dessert bar was to our SoHo location.  As luck would have it, we were only 150 meters away from Sift, and so began our decent into a sugary induced coma!

In true Hong Kong fashion, there's a great story behind Sift, which began when a 4 year old Jennifer Cheung discovered a passion for desserts.  Born in Hong Kong, but schooled in the United States, Jennifer took a detour through Harvard Business School and a stint as an Investment Banker before she realised that working 100+ hour weeks for someone else was unfulfilling.  Correcting the course of her life, Jennifer spend an eye opening six months studying at New York City's Institute of Culinary Education.  It would be the start of a journey that would see Jennifer completing an internship at Thomas Keller's world renowned Per Se, before moving back to her native Hong Kong to build her own culinary empire.

Described as a truly modern patisserie, Jennifer is driven by a passion to bring the most refined gourmet cupcakes, French pastries, macarons and cookies to her ever growing base of dedicated followers.  With skills honed as Per Se, Sift uses only the best ingredients imported from France and other exotic locations to produce sweets par excellence.

Sitting down in Jennifer's original Graham street Sift, we had a quick look over the menu, which changes regularly, and decided on a series of sweets that led me to making a comment on Facebook "No More Food, please!" - a statement that's almost unbelievable in hindsight :)

My decent into sugary madness commenced with a Valrhona hot chocolate (served with a toasted marshmallow), that had that slightly bitter taste the only the best chocolate in the world can produce.  The hot chocolate was sweet, oh-so-very-sweet too, but that little streak of bitterness helped keep the drink in balance.  The girls opening choice of a dessert muscat was probably much safer, given the sweet assault to follow, but the incredibly generous serving of muscat (it went to the brim of the glass) was also very sweet!

My choice of the Chocolate Strawberry Pavlova sounded intriguing, as an Aussie schooled in the ways of the pavlova, I was interested to see the interpretation of a native Hong Konger.  The chocolate meringue was nicely toasted and had a crispy outer and a gooey centre, which was just about ready to collapse under the weight of the whipped cream and freshly sliced strawberries. In fact, it only took one spoonful for the meringue to collapse.  The strong chocolate flavour needed the whipped cream and fresh strawberries to balance out the flavours, but I loved the combination, one that I'd never had before.  

But boy, was it sweet.  I felt the sugar coma coming on before I'd even finished.

The girl decided that Lemon Meringue Tart made with super crumbly Pâte bruise (short pastry), almond cream and aerial lemon lime curd with zest.  Topping off the beautifully prepared and dainty tart was the requisite gold leaf that's so ubiquitous throughout Hong Kong.  The bite of the lime curd was offset from the sweetness of the almond cream and the buttery goodness of the Pâte bruise.  It wasn't huge, but what it laced in size, it made up for with presentation and pure indulgent delight.

On a normal night, that would have been the end of it, but it was still Valentines day, so Sift had a special little treat for the diners on that auspicious day.  We were given a little treat of a heart shaped raspberry macaron and a itsy-bitsy little red velvet cup cake.  Now, did I mention that Sift is recognised as having the best cupcakes in all of Hong Kong?  No?  mmm, not sure how I missed that little fact, but according to the girl, it was a total knockout, so much so that she ordered another cupcake straight away, this one was a banana with chocolate.  The moist and full flavoured cupcake was topped with buttery icing sugar, the combination of banana and chocolate working beautifully well together.

My raspberry macaron was too big for a single bite, so it took me a couple of mouthfuls to devour the  treat that had fresh raspberries in-between the perfectly formed meringue casing.  It was about this time that the trio of chocolate pavlova, macaron and valrhona hot chocolate hit me and I felt like I needed a lie down.  I was so overloaded with sugar that I couldn't even finish off my delicious hot chocolate!

At the time, I couldn't have fit another bite in, but upon reflection, I've been able to recount how much I enjoyed our sojourn to Sift on our way home.  The girl was so enamoured with her cup cakes that she's done nothing but think about her next trip to Sift to devour one of the many flavours on offer (I think she really wants a Red Velvet again!) 

Luckily, we won't have far to travel, Jennifer Cheung's Sift is now in six different locations spread through out Hong Kong, including one on Wan Chai, where we are about to move!

I'm not sure I'd recommend waiting until Valentine's Day to check out Sift, especially if you've not been before.  If you're a fan of French patisserie, cupcakes, chocolate and all things sweet, then you need to get in and check this place out, stat!

My Valrhona hot chocolate with toasted marshmallow was superb - but so huge!
Not a traditional pavlova but was delicious nonetheless
A couple of Valentine's Day treats
This sweet muscat was huge and the girl tells me, quite tasty
Sift in SoHo is not huge and it was pretty quiet while we visited - couples drifted in and out 
The cupcakes at Sift are something to behold!

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