Saturday, April 16, 2011

High Tea Terror

Breakfast Cocotte at Cassis

The Cake Boys

Melissa Colomb
A fabulous South African pastry chef friend from the UK suggested we have a look at some patisseries and cake shops on his recent visit to Cape Town.  A great idea to look at what is available to the consumer wanting to indulge in a sweet treat, buy a cake for a tea party or birthday or simply to have a cup of coffee and an accompanying sweet snack.  My suggestion was to finish the day with a High Tea and leading up to that scan some of the retail/coffee shop outlets which are either very popular destinations or well reviewed.  Our route: Melissa's Newlands, Cassis (right next door), Asara wine farm, Mila's Cake Shop in Stellenbosch and then finally to a full High Tea at The Table Bay Hotel. We started off having a look at what Melissa's has to offer.  I mentioned in my Christmas blog that Melissa's does present beautifully and the easter table created an excitement for the easter treats we love over this period and the shop is enticing.  However, the cakes do not eat as well as one would hope considering their cost and appearance.  I saw something new that i didn't know about before called "colomba" but on tasting it was dry and oily.  According to Wikipaedia: "The dough for the Colomba is made in a similar manner to panettone, with flour, eggs, sugar, natural yeast and butter; unlike panettone, it usually contains candied peel and no raisins. The dough is then fashioned into a dove shape (colomba in Italian) and finally is topped with pearl sugar and almonds before being baked. 

So on research i figure if you are going to make something so traditional, make sure it is true to the tradition or call it something else.  For example, one cant make a Sacher Torte without good dark chocolate and apricot jam and call it a Sacher Torte.  More of this later....
This is what a traditional Colomba looks like - note the top

Next Stop Cassis and this gets my by best cake shop rating in Cape Town and holds up against many pastisseries i have experienced in France and London.  The quality of the ingredients is excellent.  Real butter, real couverture chocolate, beautifully decorated by skilled pastry chefs and delivers what it promises.  I don't think it is expensive given the quality and presentation and clearly nor do the customers.  Just observe a saturday morning at Cassis and you will see there is no shortage of patronage.  We decided to have breakfast to balance out the sugar we were to face later in the day and were delighted by the cocotte, croque monsieur and the coffee was delicious too.  This is the example we need to have for any further patisserie entrepeneurs.

Next Stop ASARA wine farm and Hotel.  Here you will find a beautiful setting albeit a little contrived, a fine dining restaurant and a kitchen and chocolate shop with very desirable items from food to porcelain and french cooking pots.  Asara make their own icecream and chocolates and also have some pastries which are light, authentic and fresh. I like that they are combining wine, chocolate, kitchenware and have a demo kitchen where you can watch the creation of food and learn.  I thought their slabs of chocolate were cleverly named and provide an original gifts.  I especially like the fact that they were using African Single Origin Chocolate and not Indonesian and Paraguan. We tasted some wine whilst watching a black swan glide by and were ready for our next stop Mila's Cake Shop.
Handcrafted African Single Origin Chocolate

Wine tasting at Asara
Mila's Cake Shop was supremely disapointing. The decor and view of the shop from the outside is charming and very enticing but the product inside was not worth the price and even if cheaper I would not choose to eat it.  If one is to tout oneself as an Artisan bakery with a cute, pink cake shop on a leafy street in Stellenbosch which has its fair share of award winning restaurants and foodies and gourmet markets, why use cheap chocolate, dubious decorations and an array of mediocre to bad pastry making.  Back to my Sacher Torte quibble.  Mila's cake shop should rename thiers as dense, overly rich, bad chocolate cake.

The finale of the day was looming and back to Cape Town to have High Tea at The Table Bay Hotel.  This is a five star establishment and demands high prices and I am not sure how, but seems to be voted one of  Cape Towns best High Tea experiences.

I am not going to go into too much detail except to say that the Mad Hatters Tea Party Theme didn't really work.  Where oh where is the classic high tea gone.  The scones were good but the cream sweetened.  Cream on a scone is to counteract the sweet jam not add more sweetness.  The muffins looked like an afterthought, a plop of batter in huge paper case.  Savoury won over sweet by far.  The cucumber and salmon sandwiches were good enough and the quiches were tasty.

I really have nothing to say about the sickly sweet, garish colours, bad ingredient cakes and desserts on the high tea table except that for all 5 of us we could have lived without them.  Nothing was memorable, classic or innovative and please explain why you would want to make a swiss roll from a carrot cake with no cream cheese in the room! 

wholewheat scone, plain scone and that other thing is a muffin!

Jelly powder decoration on a lemon tart !

Please can one of the Cape Town Hotels go back to a classic English high tea with quality baking, classic nostalgic cakes and pastries, simple but fresh savouries.  Where is the classic Chiffon, Classic Chocolate Cake, Black Forest done like the Germans do it, strawberry shortcake and please can we have some pretty Petit Fours.  I am sure some South African classics would work too since it is a tourist hangout.  No milk tart, no koeksusters and some Hertzoggies would have been delightful.  I am thinking that 5 Star Hotels may need a Food Trend Analyst to assist in their High Tea planning.  I am more than happy to help! Oh and a glass of bubbly for High Tea would not go unappreciated and perhaps a sneaky Sherry in Winter.  Just a suggestion!