Meal Top (밀탑), Seoul, South Korea

Category: Korean – Desserts – Bingsu (Ice shavings)

So apparently the Koreans are crazy about their bingsu, a dessert made from ice shavings, and topped with fruits or red bean, etc. (there being many renditions). Meal Top (밀탑) is one of the more famous ones and comes very highly rated at 4.5/5 on Tripadvisor, and is particularly famous for the ones with red bean topping.

165, Apgujeong-ro, Hyundai Department Store 5F, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 강남구 압구정로 165 (압구정동)

The Hyundai Department Store is right at Apgujeong metro station, and taking the escalators up to the fifth floor, you’ll be delivered right to the doorstep of Meal Top. You’ll hear it before you even see it – the clatter of cutlery and dishes and a busy chatter comes as a bit of a surprise as you navigate the escalators up past floors 3 and 4 which are full of luxury label shops and also extremely quiet.

Damage: $-$$

Each bingsu is about 8,000 KRW (~$10), which I find mighty expensive for something that comprises largely of shaved ice. Bingsu in Korea is pretty much one of the best ways to blow your money in a wink because they’re all about $10 (the cheapest one I came across was about $9). I had bingsu at 4 places around Seoul and Busan while I was there, and not once ever really left the shop feeling like it was worth the money. Nonetheless, it is a very Korean dessert, so you should probably try it at least once.

To Go: Maybe once (whether here or elsewhere, it doesn’t really matter)

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the profit margin on the bingsu is probably somewhere close to 90%, before the utilities and wages of course. The red bean, whilst wholesome and generous, could not divorce from the fact that it was still just a red bean paste, simply dolloped on top of shaved ice drizzled over with some condensed milk. The dessert was simple, good and tasty, especially if you’re having it on a warm day, but the thing that I found most spectacular, was oddly nothing to do with the dessert at all.

The service was impeccable from start to finish. Meal Top is an open-concept cafe, and the moment I stepped in from the ‘wrong’ side, the manager immediately spotted me, graciously ushered me to the seating area on the other side and pulled a waiting number from the machine for me. It was running at full house and there were several people ahead of us in the queue, but the wait wasn’t long. I watched, fascinated, as waiters transported trays of dessert barely 2 minutes after it was ordered, and as they swooped in on tables the moment guests departed, readying it within seconds for the next guests to be seated.

Meal Top bingsu dessert Seoul South Korea Food Review Travel Diary Blog

Travel Diary: Shiroi Koibito Park, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Japan, 〒063-0052 北海道札幌市西区宮の沢2条2丁目11−36; Tel +81 11-666-1481

We followed the smiles and waves of the park guides in neatly ironed white uniforms and rounded the bend into the basement carpark before disembarking for Shiroi Koibito Park in Sapporo, Hokkaido. It was funny how I’d known about the Shiroi Koibito biscuit before I knew anything else about Hokkaido – it seemed to be the ultimate souvenir that friends would bring back from Hokkaido, and with good reason, considering that ever since I’d tasted it, I couldn’t stop craving the light thin biscuit with a skinny block of white chocolate wedged between.

The lift opened into the main store, and straight away I felt like I’d stepped into a fantasyland of sorts, with (what I now recognised to be a distinctly Japanese touch) tinkling music and chocolate and candies in colourful wrappers everywhere, including giant standing lollipop decorations. A grand-ish staircase descended from the second floor on the right, and straight ahead, stood a ferris wheel around which children had gathered, slotting coins and taking turns to hit a button which would spin the wheel and drop a piece of candy from the lowest bucket when it stopped.

Shiroi Koibito Park Famous Best Biscuit Sapporo Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary

Once outside, the Shiroi Koibito Park reminded me of disneyland with its castle-like exteriors and gardens full of the most colourful flowers and little water features, including cherubic sculptures peering out from random places.

Shiroi Koibito Park Famous Best Biscuit Sapporo Hokkaido Japan Travel DiaryWe stepped into the shade of the building to commence our tour of the Shiroi Koibito Park, and were each handed the awesome biscuit at the entrance. I’m not a huge facts junkie, so the details of the making of the biscuit wasn’t all that fascinating to me, except when the trail opened up and ran by the actual production line. I stood for a good while watching the Shiroi Koibito biscuit get pushed out from the machine, sandwiched together, sorted, and packaged, all within a few meters. I couldn’t help but focus on the workers picking out imperfect Shiroi Koibito biscuits near the end of the line, wondering what they did with the rejected biscuits- and daydreamed about them giving it all to me.

Shiroi Koibito Park Famous Best Biscuit Sapporo Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Factory Production LineThe Shiroi Koibito Cafe stood at the end of the tour – it’s the only place where you can have the Shiroi Koibito White Hot Chocolate Drink and the Shiroi Koibito White Chocolate Ice-cream. I sat down excitedly and immediately decided that the dilemma was non-existent and that I was going to have both 😛

Shiroi Koibito Park Famous Best Biscuit Sapporo Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary White Hot Chocolate and White Chocolate Ice-CreamOh god. It was so good – the ice-cream was so creamy, milky, soft, and just melted away in the mouth. The White Hot Chocolate was good too, and was something my cousin had been raving on and on about in anticipation throughout the trip. I thought it was really delicious, but the good news is, when I tasted it, I immediately pinpointed a “dupe” in my favourite Luxury White Hot Chocolate from Whittard’s in London, which means that for everyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to visit Shiroi Koibito Park, you essentially get a taste of Japan if you can get yourself some Whittard‘s.

Hazeya Cafe (はぜや珈琲), Abashiri, Hokkaido, Japan

SCRIBBLES

Category: Cafe – Coffee

We’d just wrapped up lunch at Kanigen in Abashiri, when I was presented with the new mission of finding the family a coffee fix. I scanned my list and found that I hadn’t made provisions for any cafe, and so decided to whip out my trusty Google maps, and crossing my fingers, did a “Search nearby: Coffee”. By luck, chance, or by Google’s sheer brilliance, of the few markers that came up, everything was in Japanese except “はぜや珈琲” which had “coffee” in mandarin, and so that’s where I navigated us to. Turns out, it was one of the best coffees any of us had ever had in our lives.

Komabakita 3-chome 9-7, Abashiri, Hokkaido 093-0033 / 北海道 網走市駒場北3丁目9-7

Although I’d been proven reliable in providing navigational guidance throughout the trip, everyone couldn’t help but doubt when my directions led us deep into a residential estate. After piloting through the grid of single-lane residential streets, we finally saw the little cream-coloured standalone cottage with a chocolate-coloured roof and a sign at the front with a coffee bean – it had to be it.

Damage: $

The coffee was worth way more than it’s price. An expresso was about the standard $3+; I can’t remember the prices for every item, but we definitely spent under $8 each and left as a troop of happy Energizer bunnies.

To go: YES!!! 

It was definitely a hole-in-the-wall kind of place, with artisan coffee brewed in-house and an amazing selection of beans, it’s probably a secret kept amongst the locals so thank you, Google! Thank you so much!


A MORE DETAILED REVIEW

I was busy taking photos of the cafe from the outside and was the last one in. A little bell hung on the door of the cafe and chimed as I entered. Even before I actually set foot inside, the amazing aroma of freshly brewed beans hit me like the scent of a memorable perfume, and I stood there for a split second- surprised- trying to take it all in. The only other guests in the place at this time were a Japanese couple and their little boy, who looked just as surprised to see tourists in this place. My family was excitedly flipping through the menu, eagerly anticipating the satisfaction of a good fix of caffeine on a sleepy afternoon.

The place was small and could seat barely ten people, with little round tables lined up against the full-length windows on the left, outside of which lay a bed of pastel purple flowers bathing in the afternoon sun. The counter was to the right, and upon entering, customers would be greeted with shelves of various beans roasted in-house, as well as cookies and such, while a large 2-meter high silver-coloured grinder stood in the back.

Hazeya Coffee Best Artisan Coffee Hokkaido Japan Travel Blog Review

The baristas were perfectionists in the trade. While waiting, we observed them brewing, tasting, measuring and adjusting. They even threw out the first batch which smelled fantastic to me.

It was a pretty hot afternoon and so I decided to get an affogato which I happily conclude was the best decision ever. The ice-cream was creamy and luscious, but what really hit the spot for me was the espresso shot that was poured over it. It was so intense, so deep, so mellow, and had a perfect amount of acidity which gave a kick to the senses. Even as the ice-cream melted, the espresso kept its character, and I enjoyed it slowly- scoop by scoop, enjoying the view of the garden, while everyone who didn’t order an affogato secretly (or not so secretly) wished they did.

Top coffee Hazeya Cafe Hokkaido Japan Travel Blog Review

White Flower Factory, Bangkok, Thailand

SCRIBBLES

Category: Desserts – Thai-inspired

This was another accidental discovery on our last day in Bangkok and I don’t know why, but it seems like things just always seem to come when you’re not looking for them – just like how you never seem to be able to find blue shoes when you want blue shoes – wouldn’t you agree? I really liked this place for it’s cosy and chic vibe, but above all, it was the spin that they did on otherwise ordinary desserts which made them all the more special.

Siam Square One (Opposite Siam Paragon), 4th Floor

Siam Square One opened in mid December 2014 and is just situated right across from Siam Paragon. Both malls are connected by a link bridge which cuts through the Siam metro station, so going from one to the next is a natural progression. It is a pretty oddly designed mall with long slopes and an scattering of staircases and escalators. White Flower Factory was located on the fourth floor with its glass windows supported within vertical black frames, beyond which cakes lay in a tantalising display and a crowd had gathered.

Damage: $$

This is definitely a more upmarket cafe, with prices almost comparable to the upper-mid-tier cafes in Singapore. I noticed that it really depended upon what you ordered, considering that some items such as the milkshakes were reasonably priced at 95THB (~$4) whereas other items, such as the cakes, were pricier (~$6-7).

To go: Yes, especially for the desserts with a thai twist

It was a great place to hang out and have a tea or a coffee as well as some cake, and that’s what we did. Desserts are slightly on the pricier side given the modest servings, but where else can you get a Thai Tea Mille Crepe cake?? I noticed that many of the other customers (locals) were having their meals there, and since the place was almost packed full, I gather the food must be pretty good as well. Also, the wait staff were helpful and attentive even during the busy lunch hour.


A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT

Our last day in Bangkok was a Monday. Between checking-out at 11am and our flight at 6.30pm in the evening, we had time to kill. We’d spent the previous day at Platinum mall and every other mall next to that, but they weren’t quite our cup of tea, so we decided to check out Siam Paragon since most other places (ex. shopping) are closed on Mondays. We alighted from the cab and dragged our luggage up the overhead, and decided to take a short detour into Siam Square One simply because it was on the same side of the road. The fourth floor was filled with a tonne of restaurants and cafes, many offering very good value-for-money set meals and dishes. While passing one of the floors, I also spotted Somboon Seafood (but I’ll save that nightmare story about the whole Somboon saga for another time).

Then, as we came round a corner, I first saw the modern sans-serif “White Flower Factory” lettering in white on a black square sign against one of the tall windows of the cafe some distance away. As we got closer, I noticed the warm cosy lighting and the tall shelf housing what seemed like over a dozen cakes (!). And then I noticed the crowd – the cafe was packed and there were even people standing next to the door. That sealed the deal for me, and I had to go in. I hurried the last few steps and soon, we were seated.

Cakes at White Flower Factory Siam Square One Bangkok Thailand

Looking at the menu, I really had to refrain from getting trigger happy. They had everything from the traditional stuff like affogato and milkshakes and vanilla, caramel and hazelnut lattes, to the more exciting stuff – which were really the cakes. Staring at the display of cakes, I really wanted to try Everything, but we eventually settled on two which were the Thai Tea Crepe Cake and the Coconut Cake.

Thai Tea Crepe cake and Coconut Cake White Flower Factory Bangkok Thailand

Okay, let’s just take a moment to relish those cakes with our eyes. How great do those look? I’m a huge fan of well-executed mille crepe cake so when this reached the table, I had to concentrate on remaining calm and keeping still. When the waitress said to pour the cup of creamy Thai Tea sauce over the cake before eating, man, I quickly started snapping pictures so I could get down to the actual eating, pronto.

Both cakes were delicious. The sauce on the Thai Tea Crepe Cake was like a happy pill, although I must admit the texture of the mille crepe cake wasn’t nearly as good as Lady M’s. The flavours of the milky thai tea were unmistakable though, and that was lovely. The Coconut Cake was really good – the sponge layers were extremely lightweight, and they were generous with the coconut cream which had bits of fresh coconut flesh in it. Those, together with their house blend tea and some latte – Divine.

Zabrina Alexis Chew at White Flower Factory Cafe Bangkok

The Lime Tree Cafe, Dubai, UAE

SCRIBBLES

Category: Arabic/Western – Breakfast/Brunch

Jumeirah 1, Jumeirah Road, Dubai 

We had our best brunch in Dubai at The Lime Tree Cafe which I’d read about ahead of the trip. We got a little lost trying to find this place and the taxi driver had no idea where it was. Turns out it was along a row of little single-story buildings which can be spotted if you looked hard enough past the open carpark.

The entrance to Lime Tree Cafe was enshrouded in lush green leaves, and stepping in, I felt like I’d chanced upon Eden. Wood featured heavily in the decor which gives it a homey feel (which I personally have a soft spot for), further augmented by the many families who bring along their dogs to brunch in the little garden. The cafe seemed to be especially popular with expats.

Damage: $

I wouldn’t say it was cheap, but it is around the same cost as a typical brunch at one of the independent cafes in Singapore, which is about 25 bucks – still, I’d say there was more bang for the buck at Lime Tree.

To go: Whenever we go to Dubai 😀

I really liked the middle eastern influences in the menu, and when I walked to the counter, I was delighted to find an entire shelf of all kinds of wraps, sandwiches and the like, which featured lots of colour and greens.

I had the Halloumi cheese and pomodoro toastie (feature picture), accompanied by a middle eastern banana and fig smoothie which was so delicious, I made sure I got out every single drop. My friend ordered an Eggs Benedict which looked pretty good (and I’m told tastes pretty good) as well. The food was delicious – we got greedy and added a triple berry parfait to split between the three of us. The cafe also featured lots of juices and smoothies for the health-buffs/conscious.

Yum – I’m definitely going back if I’m in the area.
Eggs Benedict and Berry Parfait with Granola