January 19, 2015

Food Review: TWG Tea Singapore

I find tea to be a balm for many things and events in my life.

It's hard to say when I started loving tea, but it never occurred to me how important it was in my life until I had to go without it. I had opened my pantry on a fateful winter afternoon to find that I had forgotten to replenish my teas, and it was at that moment - while looking woefully between my pantry and my little plate of shortbread biscuits - I realized that it had wormed its way into my life without me even knowing it.

In Singapore, tea is easily accessible. Whether you drink it posh with fancy sugar cubes and beautiful silverware while looking up into the nose of a snooty butler, or out of a plastic bag from a bustling coffee shop bought from a man or woman with the voice range of a banshee, tea is not difficult to find and can be found in many forms, catered to your every whim.

To start off my review officially, let me tell you one thing: TWG Tea at Takashimaya made me very upset when it first opened its doors.

The reason being it had taken over the lot previously occupied by Royal Copenhagen Tea House - which was my absolute favorite when it came to tea-time. It remains one of my deep regrets in my life to not have written about Royal Copenhagen more, more so now that it cannot be found in Singapore (please let me know if you have information leading to this being in the contrary), and I transferred much of that regret into an automated disdain for the TWG Tea establishment in its place. It was unfair to them and to be honest I did not care much for being unfair or for them.

So of course I did a review today.

If I had to describe TWG Tea, it would simply with the word Gold. They love the color. Even their menus' (all three of them including a Tea Book) literature are exceedingly fancy. Their decor is lavish and blindingly posh - reminiscent of Victorian accents as you sit and listen to the delicate tinkle of spoons against tea cups and find yourself inhaling the permeating scent of teas from their iconic tea wardrobe, stocked to the brim with lovely tins of tea leaf blends as the sunlight fills up the parlor in the laze of mid-afternoon.

I'm not even mention their ten million chandeliers.

As it was tea-time, TWG Tea in Takashimaya Ngee Ann City was slowly filling up with customers seeking refuge from the mid-day heat and the bustle of a busy shopping mall. Tired feet and parched throats find themselves here with a hankering for teas iced and hot, and maybe even a sweet treat or two to sooth frazzled nerves from the crowd.

Me and my tea-time partner were no different - so we ordered up TWG's Tea Set Menu, which included an assortment of three finger sandwiches (it doesn't involve fingers for fillings) and salad, two scones served with creme fraiche and jam, with a pot of tea for one. We also added some macaroons, which were added to the tiered display, Earl Grey and Chocolate, Matcha and Rose Macaroon. 


I have to admit the presentations were very lovely - time was taken to ensure this presentation was to standard. As I chatted with my partner I observed the server calmly arrange macaroons onto the plate, and with careful inspection, wiped around the plate to ensure there were no stray crumbs on the pristine white plate. He finally placed the tier on our table, sliding it just so to ensure it sat perfectly between us and arranged the three individual plates. The server was either well-trained or extremely meticulous; both of which I appreciated.

I felt like I was watching something out The Grand Budapest Hotel.

For tea, we had two different pots, mine being the Bodhi Dharma Tea - an ethereal blend of black tea and Chinese green tea leaves. The other was a pot of tea named the Ace of Hearts Tea, which was a blend of South African Rooibos and Ceylon. Again, care was taken when the server was preparing the tea, as they both had different preparation methods, amounts of tea leaves and steeping time. As our server poured a small amount into the two shallow tea cups, the teas showed their difference immediately through the intensity of color and aroma.

At first sip, tea-time officially began.

We started with the scones - warm and served, again, in delicate chinaware, with fresh clotted cream and tea jam. Both condiments are subtle in flavor, never to overpower each other but to work together on a buttery, crumbly surface of this simple, classic confectionery. 

I am glad they did not serve the scones with butter, which would have been quite a waste and to me, a faux pas committed by many establishments, plus TWG Tea had access to a lovely tea jam under their label, so they may as well use it for serving. The light cream, you will find, soon melts over the surface of the scone as is absorbed - softening the dense pastry and adding the slightest sweetest to it.

TWG Tea is quite known for their varieties of macaroons - extensive flavors are often seen arranged according to color and flavor being sold in TWG Teas' many franchises around Singapore - and this is also apparent in the Takashimaya outlet. Uniformed rows of beautiful pastel colors, lovingly made and then arranged in the display for customers to peruse. 

As I mentioned, we added several to our tea-time menu - but there are many flavors, from fruit to mint, all going well with hot tea, since most of the flavors were probably inspired by their tea blends. We both especially the Earl Grey Chocolate Macaroon, and we ended up with one each. I first had this flavor a few years ago as a gift from a friend, and I loved the airy shell, crumbly with a slight chew, the ganache tasting of deep dark chocolate with an aftertaste and scent of pleasant Earl Grey leaves. 

I took a bite, and had a sip of my Bodhi Dharma, now cooled and even lovelier. It was quite the experience for my palate.

The non-finger finger sandwiches, an assortment of three, were passable - not impressive as sandwiches but not bad enough for me to not want them. Cucumber, Foie Gras, a few slices of chicken on buttered toast, the basic condiments for simple sandwiches. The salad was a filler, albeit overdressed, a nice touch to give you the illusion of value for money. 

I didn't hate it, but it didn't make much of an impression - they didn't particularly go well with the tea as well, so I was not very interested in them.

As we enjoyed our treats, we were interrupted by the addition of new items to the massive dessert cart we were seated right next to (both a blessing and curse perhaps), and found ourselves immediately intrigued by this moss green, jello looking dessert. I relented to my curiosity and asked the server about the new dessert. He explained that it was not actually jello, but actually a mousse coated in pistachio jelly, so we went ahead and decided to try one.

There were, of course, other desserts added with this green wonder - several large blueberry tarts, and a purple dome similar to the pistachio. There were also the daily treat TWG Tea calls their Tea-Infused King's Cake, which visually reminded me of the French Tarte Tatin.

I'll admit the color is intriguing, but pistachio makes sense. As we dug into it, the pistachio element was strong, also apparent in the mousse encased within. It also revealed, in the middle of the light green cream, a bright red middle of raspberry coulis with a bottom layer of thin sponge with chocolate cereal pops. In one bright green dome, I experienced quite a few textures, which was always appreciated in desserts.

I liked it. It was quite elegant as a dessert, light and a little pretentious with the right amount of sweet and tart, with nothing overwhelming - just like tea.

You will notice, that I mentioned several additions - this one was the last. A Strawberry Shortcake, also present in the dessert cart and disappearing rapidly once it was displayed.

A generous, lush rectangle of big, sweet strawberries immortalized in vanilla-scented, speckled cream, with two buttery almond butter pastries, then further topped with berries of several kinds. Sweet, perhaps even cloyingly so, but with bursts of freshness from the huge chunks of strawberries; a classic tea-time dessert for many. As well as visually attractive, it was also one of the nicer strawberry shortcake variations I've tasted so far. I've had several strawberry shortcakes, the nicest from a Japanese Patisserie, and some really not so great ones which either focus too much on berries or too much on sponge. 

I really liked this tart-cake hybrid. I even ate the strawberries. I personally, am not a berries person (they freak me out) and don't particularly like berries of any sort but this went down a treat. 

I have to admit, attention to detail was quite good in TWG Tea, especially in terms of service. We initially had a different server, a Filipino (he is in one the above photos) who seemed to be asleep on his feet and not really listening to me at all when I asked for sparkling water, but someone else stepped in and saved the day. I only mention his ethnicity because the person who stepped in was also a Filipino, a lovely lady and a bespectacled, smiley, Chinese guy (both not pictured) who saw my slight pause when I spoke to their unfocused, sulky colleague and thankfully did not share his lack of service attitude.

We paid a little over $90 for our tea-time, but it was quite a lot of desserts, and two very lovely pots of tea. 

Do I miss Royal Copenhagen? With all my heart - but perhaps I have gotten over my unhappiness towards TWG Tea. 

TWG Tea Takashimaya can be located at: 

Takashimaya Singapore, 
391 Orchard Road, 
Level 2 
Singapore 238873

Mon-Sun: 930AM to 930PM

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