Hong Kong Travel Basics

I am finally bringing more travel content to The Boy Who Bakes and first up, Hong Kong. Over the next couple weeks I will posting a handful of posts to help you plan and inspire any upcoming trips to Hong Kong. Todays post is a primer on Hong Kong, some need to know information before you visit plus it’s a way for me to showcase all the photography I do when I travel when the images don’t always relate to the bakeries and food scene I am writing about. The post will be interspersed with some useful knowledge to have before your visit.

Over the 10 days we stayed in the city, after the most disastrous journey ever arriving 20 hours late after an unexpected and very unwelcome detour through Singapore, we stayed in a couple different neighbourhoods. We stayed with friends in Central, and we stayed in a hotel in Quarry Bay, both on Hong Kong Island. We wanted to explore as much of the city as possible so other than Hong Kong Island, where we visited many different neighbourhoods from Central to Wan Chai, we hopped across to Kowloon side and explored Tsim Sha Tsui and Sham Shui Po plus we got on a boat and spent a day tripping around the islands south of Hong Kong Island and of course we had to get the MTR out to Lantau Island to visit the Big Buddha at Po Lin Monastery.

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The Basics

Hong Kong is known as a ‘special administration region of The People’s Republic of China’. A British colony from 1842 until 1997 it now lives in something of a halfway house. It has its own government (although recent protests show it’s maybe not as independent from China’s rule as it might seem on paper, something locals are not happy about) and exists under the idea of one country two systems, being a part of China but existing under a different legal framework, namely the British system it inherited. It is an extremely densely populated city, with a population of 7.39 million. The city is made up of 230 islands the main three being Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and Lantau. The official languages are Chinese and English. Cantonese is the major dialect found in Hong Kong and English is incredibly common although not 100% of the time, thankfully signage is almost always bilingual.

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Useful Info

What do you need to know before arriving in Hong Kong? Firstly for those of you wondering if you can enjoy a visit there when you speak no Cantonese don’t worry, English is widely spoken and due to Hong Kong’s history as an English colony the signage is very commonly bilingual. Bottom line, it’s always a good idea to try and learn at least a few key words and phrases of the local language but in Hong Kong its not the barrier it might be elsewhere.

The currency is Hong Kong Dollars (HKD) and $10 roughly equates to €1.12, £1.12 or $1.26 USD. The stereotype of Hong Kong is of an expensive city to visit but that wasn’t our general experience. Unless you’re eating at high end restaurants food is not particularly expensive, especially when compared to other major cities like London, and most of the times it’s actually cheaper. However, if your tastes run on the expensive side then Hong Kong has more than enough places to empty your wallet. Drinks can be a little pricer and this can be alcoholic or caffeine based drinks. Coffee at ‘third wave’ coffee shops, the places that roast their own coffee, the places I like to visit because I am a coffee nerd, cost about $45 HKD, plus a bottle of beer in the Central neighbourhood will run you around £6 (Central is both a nightlife, restaurant and expat district so this is the more expensive neighbourhood for some things)

Talking of drinking, the legal drinking age is 18 plus there is no open-bottle law so you can drink in the street if you so wish, but be careful of traffic, there are 18,000 taxis in this city, don’t let one of them hit you, be sensible. It also wasn’t something we saw a lot of, so use your common sense and drink where you would normally.

Hotel prices like in any city vary widely but one tip if you’re travelling on a budget is to avoid staying on Hong Kong Island, especially in Central which is a definitely a little pricier. The hotel we stayed at, East Hong Kong, was located in Quarry Bay in the east of Hong Kong Island and, for the quality, was significantly cheaper than the same style hotels in Central, it also had an amazing view over the Hong Kong Harbour, definitely worth a look..

I’ll get into this more in another post but getting around is incredibly easy with a brilliant metro system, buses, trams and thousands upon thousands of taxis (and yes, Uber operates in HK too)

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When to Visit

Hong Kong gets some extreme ends of the weather spectrum and there is definitely prefereable seasons to visit depending on your likes. Summers are hot, and that should be with a capital H for both hot and humid. Leaving the happy confines of air conditioned spaces (everywhere is air conditioned in HK) is like immediately walking into a wall of heat, so be prepared and keep water with you at all times. March to May is spring and the time I would choose to visit (although saying this we visited late May and for me it was almost too hot and humid!) June to August expect it to very hot and stormy. Autumn will be on the cooler side but in winter it will be surprisingly chilly. I would happily visit in any season but I would likely avoid the height of summer simply because heat and humidity are not my jam and the rain might put a dampener on your plans.

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City or Countryside

Whilst these images, and those that appear in film and tv, don’t really show it well, Hong Kong is an incredibly green country, almost three quarters of it’s land is countryside. It’s not like London or New York with its city parks dotted throughout the urban centres, the city centres are completely surrounded by green spaces, open natural green spaces, beaches, mountains, water, all manner of countryside. There are beaches a plenty, hikes for all you walkers out there and amazing view points for those of us that like getting up high. One of the best things we did on this trip was to hire a boat and spend a day exploring the different islands south of Hong Kong Island, stopping off at the fishing village of Po Toi O and enjoying the freshest seafood lunch at Fat Kee restaurant. Whilst the city is incredible it is absolutely worth spending a day or two exploring outside the main areas and seeing a different side of the city.

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Dim Sum Ettiquette

Your’e in the dim sum capital of the world and you should definitely be visiting a couple different dim sum restaurants whilst you’re here. There are a couple things I didn't know about before visiting that I thought I would pass on. Firstly you’ll be seated with others, its a communal experience and you’ll be directed to wherever empty seats are in the restaurant. When you sit down a kettle of tea will be placed in front of you with your dishes, alongside a bowl. The tea isn’t for drinking it’s to wash your dishes. They’re clean, don’t worry, this is done mainly out of custom. Unless your’e dining in high end dim sum places the chances are the menus will be in Cantonese so it’s worth brushing up on the name of some dishes you want to try to make it easier to communicate with the staff. If you want to follow the local etiquette then before pouring tea for yourself make sure everyone else is topped up, its only polite. If the tea is poured by a waiter or waitress you can tap the table as a polite thank you.

Over the next couple week or so I will have a few post for you about my trip, a guide some of my favourite cafes and bakeries and a helpful guide to getting around the city.

London Chocolate Openings

Pump St Bakery

I like to say that London is one of the worlds best chocolate cities and in the last few weeks it got a little bit sweetwer, with two new openings of note. Firstly I want to tell you about one of my favourites, a bakery I will, and have on multiple occasions, travelled to for their wonderful pastries and breads but also a place that makes and sells world class chocolate, Pump St Bakery. This is a family run affair, set up by Chris and Joanne Brennan, a father and daughter duo. Chris, an avid home baker, retired and took his hobby full time. First came the bread, then the pastries and then maybe even more excitingly came the chocolate. Considering the quality of the chocolate they make you might be a little surprised to find that they are based in the sleepy village of Orford. A beautiful picturesque English village it something you might see when watching a period drama not what springs to mind when you think chocolate. In their factory hidden away just outside the edges of the village however, lies their bakery and chocolate production facility where they have been quietly producing chocolate since 2012. I say quietly but in reality they have been making some serious waves, the chocolate is available all over the world and I have seen in places as far and wides as New York and Tokyo. For the last few years they have been putting out what I consider to be some of the best chocolate in the world. They source beans direct from the farmers, helping support sustainable cocoa production and turn those into an amazing array of chocolates. 

But back to the bustle of London. Pump St’s bakery is not exactly a quick jaunt from London and whilst you can buy their chocolate from many places in the city you cannot get the full range easily and you definitely cannot get their wonderful baking so for the second time, the last time being 3 years ago, the bakery has popped up in Shoreditch. They have taken over the In House space, a dolls house sized shop located on Redchurch St in Shoreditch. The important things to note are that a) this is a short term pop-up they are only here until Sunday and b) if the previous incarnation is anything to go by get there early to avoid disappointment, the baking sells out fast! There’s probably a good chance you’ll spot me there all week, I am a huge fan of their eccles cake. I would go so far as to say it is the best I’ve ever had and trust me with the amount of eccles cakes I’ve had I must qualify as some sort of self proclaimed eccles cake expert and definite willing quality assurance officer.

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Besides the daily deliveries of fresh baked goods there is also plenty of chocolate goodies to stock up on. They sell an amazing and intriguing variety of bars, everything from single origin dark and milk bars to coffee infused varieties (in partnership with Workshop Coffee) to the very special bakery series that marries the two sides of their business. Think dark chocolate with the addition of sourdough and sea salt or a milk chocolate that is infused with crumbs of rye bread or the newest in the line up, a delicious panettone bar. At the pop-up they are also launching their first ever cocoa powder which to me seems like a massive feat for a comparatively small company. The cocoa powder is a natural variety, as apposed to dutched, but it’s not your everyday natural cocoa powder. When a cocoa is ‘dutched’ it is washed in a potassium carbonate solution that removes a lot of the acidity present in cocoa and darkens the colour. Pump St wanted to avoid this process so they conch the cocoa nibs before pressing it into powder which naturally removes a lot of the acidic notes creating a cocoa powder that is seemingly a halfway house between traditional natural cocoa powders and dutched versions. I for one am very excited to bake with this and see what the difference is. 

Pump St Bakery/Chocolate Pop-Up
In House
67 Redchurch St
E2 7DJ
Open Tuesday 13th Nov-Sunday 18th Nov 2018

Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse 

The second chocolate opening of recent weeks is Le Chocolat by Alain Ducasse. Based out of Paris the famed Chef, Alain Ducasse, set up his chocolate business back in 2013 with the aim of creating chocolate from bear to bar that he could use across his many restaurants around the world, of which there is currently around 30. The original shop is housed in an old Citroen garage in the Bastille neighbourhood, in the 11th Arrondissement of Paris and it is a wondrous, beautifully designed space. They took a rough and ready space that had been neglected for many years and transformed it into a gown up, sophisticated chocolate haven. As with many chocolate companies, finding the equipment to make chocolate was a little tricky so in the kitchens you will find a variety of repurposed machines, equipment originally intended for roasting coffee, grinding mustard seeds, or even making paper, now used to create chocolate. As with Pump St, Le Chocolat is a bean to bar producer meaning they buy beans and process that into chocolate. One of the differences is that whilst Le Chocolat also makes chocolate in its bar form they also make enrobed chocolates and pralines. The pralines also happen to be my favourite thing they make. They make traditional almond and hazelnut versions but also more modern peanut and coconut varieties too.

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Whilst the company has been around since 2013 and recently expanded into Japan until recently their only footprint in Europe was the handful of shops that exist in Paris. A couple weeks ago this changed when they jumped across the pond and opened in London, in the new fashionable Coal Drops Yard, a beautiful shopping and restaurant district just north of Kings Cross Station. The development has taken an 1850’s coal storage yard which then became a haunt for ravers in the 90’s and turned it into a shoppers delight. They have kept much of the architectural features and very successfully redesigned the space for a modern purpose. The aesthetic suits Le Chocolat perfectly as it’s all bare brick and industrial elements, exactly as you would find in the original Paris location. In Paris not only did they incorporate old machinery they used a lot of vintage finds to outfit the retail store including many elements from an old Parisian bank. 

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If you are looking for something a little different Christmas they also have a nice range of edible Christmas decorations, from a build yourself Christmas tree to a massive Christmas slab that comes complete with its own mallet. Plus if you feel a little old for a Cadburys advent calendar they also make their own spin on the idea. They will also, in the not too distant future, be opening a cafe next door that has a similar mission to Le Chocolat, a cafe serving coffee sourced and roasted for use within the Ducasse restaurant group. 

Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse
Unit 15
Bagley Walk Arches
Coal Drops Yard

San Francisco Coffee Shops

I have been in San Francisco the past week, eating my way across the city, and I've quickly fallen in love. This is most definitely a city I could happily live in, I just need a green card so any eligible bachelors please form an orderly queue! With a ten hour flight and an eight hour time difference I landed with a unusually, for me anyway, bad case of jet lag, waking up very early each and every morning. This means on one hand I was able to enjoy some truly stunning sunrises (this was from Noe Valley, a lovely residential neighbourhood that sits next to the Castro) and on the other I was surviving on a diet composed heavily of coffee. As today in International Day and San Francisco is a city in love with caffeine here are some of my favourite spots I visited.

Le Meridien

I know what you’re thinking, hotel coffee, really? Due to my screwed up sleep, I woke up before any coffee shops had opened so took advantage of Le Meridien’s room service and coffee offering. For me these little luxuries makes me disproportionally happy, breakfast in bed whilst dressed in a fluffy white robe is all I need to wake up right! Le Meridien has a partnership with Illy coffee so it’s a big step up from the usually undrinkable hotel coffee I am used to and really helped make those early morning a little easier to handle. Plus, with this view, how could you not want to enjoy a lazy breakfast and coffee looking out over the city!

The hotel was also the perfect place for exploring the city, it is located near every transport link you could need and the best bit for me was that it was a mere two minutes walk to the Ferry Building so exploring the wonderful San Francisco Farmers Market was just a stroll away.

333 Battery St, San Francisco, CA 94111

Blue Bottle

The upstart of American coffee. They're definitely not Starbucks big, but they're getting there with shops in the Bay Area, LA, NYC and even in Tokyo. In San Francisco they have locations in the Ferry Plaza, Hayes Valley, and a few downtown. My drink of choice on this trip was the New Orleans Iced Coffee, a delicious cold brewed coffee with chicory thrown in for a true New Orleans flavour, its a solid iced coffee, perfect for those hot SF days.

315 Linden St. 
San Francisco, CA 94102

Four Barrell / The Mill

These guys are definitely a local favourite, I stumbled upon multiple cafes using beans from this roaster and some of my favourite hits of caffeine came from coffee made with their beans. The Mission location is a full on hipster fever dream with exposed bricks, beams and a handful of taxidermy heads mounted on the wall. So yes the original location isn't my favourite in terms of design but they have a space alongside Alamo Square and The Painted Ladies that is much more my style. In 2012 the guys behind Four Barrel teamed up with the brilliant baker Josey Baker (yes that’s his real name) to open The Mill, a combo bakery coffee shop space (you might also know it as the home of the $6 toast). Its a gorgeous bright space and the perfect place to start your day. Out of all the coffee I had this week this place made the best cappuccino. Add some toast to your coffee and you have a fabulous breakfast.

736 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Sightglass Coffee

This flagship of this local chain is slightly off the regular tourist track in SoMa but it's a gorgeous spot and they serve pastries from one of the best places in the city, Neighbour Bakehouse. They also make a really good vanilla iced coffee, perfect if you like your coffee flavoured, but lightly so. You can also get coffee from Sightglass at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on a Saturday and at the San Francisco MoMa.

270 7th St, San Francisco, CA 94103


This is another coffee shop that does great coffee buts beauty lies in so much more than that. They have two stores but for this I am referring to Jane on Larkin, the food offering here is a bit special. In this shop you can get a series of different pastries made with a croissant dough and they are fabulous! My favourites were the sausage and provolone croissant and the lemon poppy seed knot. My tip would be get there early, these sell out quick! 

925 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Reveille Coffee

With all my painfully early mornings I needed somewhere to get my much needed morning fix. At the start of my trip I was staying in Noe Valley in an airbnb, who's hard futon may have contributed slightly to my lack of sleep. Each morning I would make the walk over the mountainous hills to the Castro and enjoy breakfast at this wonderful spot, former food truck gone bricks and mortar. The weather was unseasonably warm so took advantage of the cute outside space, enjoying a coffee and a breakfast sandwich as I slowly started to feel a little human again. They also have a number of other locations across the city, plus the original truck is still going

4076 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

Social Media Tips

Last week I was invited to give a talk about the way I use social media for my career in food at the new Discovery Space at the Three Mobile store in Islington (think of it like going to an Apple store to learn basics on how to use your phone) and it actually got me thinking about the way I use twitter, Instagram and all the socials. It’s not as if I actually have a social media plan, I don't really schedule posts, I don't use diagnostics or check my engagement but in some ways I think that is to my benefit. 

My biggest tip is that social media is supposed to be fun and it ever feels like a job you're taking it too seriously (of course thats different if you are using it for a company). 

After thinking about it for a while I did realise that I have some habits that have become useful, the first and most important tip would be authenticity. I follow accounts that have a point, I love a pastry chef that is showing off his work, a travel writer that shows me places I will never get to visit and cute sausage dogs just being cute (I wont apologise for my love of cute dogs!). Whilst different the one thing these accounts have in common is consistency, they post what they're known for and this feels like an authentic voice, if it was random pictures with no cohesive feel it doesn't grab peoples attention, maybe unless you are Kim Kardashian. Along with that another tip I have learnt is regular posting, if you leave long gaps between posting content the lower your engagement gets, for Instagram I would say once a day is what I personally aim for but I don’t push it, if I don’t have a good picture I would rather not post. 

I also use different social media for different things. Instagram (my favourite) is my creative area, I don't post random pictures but normally it is shots I have spent some time on, almost as a portfolio for my work. Twitter is obviously for chatting and I use that on a real mixed level, some work, some personal, lots of whatever. Snapchat, my latest obsession, is where I don’t follow any rules, it’s the younger sibling of the social media world and it’s simply for fun, yes I put work stuff on it, but its almost a behind the curtain look plus a whole host of random things I see/do during my day, its the social media where I let loose (follow me, like everywhere else, @theboywhobakes) 

At the class I also gave a quick guide to the way I take pictures for Instagram and while this is easier to do in person these were a few tips I gave.

1. Natural light - unless you are adept at using studio lights with a delicate hand, food generally looks awful with flash, especially when that flash comes from your phone or your compact camera - turn it off.

2. Follow some of your favourite accounts and learn what you like and dislike from their style and let it influence your own style, dont just steal other peoples ideas but by learning what you like and dislike you will start to develop your own style.

3. Edit with a delicate hand. Most filters are too strong straight out of the box, turn them down before posting, it looks more natural and it just looks better.

4. Edit outside of Instagram. The app has come a long way in its editing abilities but I still prefer to use a more pro app and my favourite is VSCO Cam, its just the best. 

5. Variety. Don't always post pictures that look exactly the same. I follow accounts that use the same set up and over time, whilst they are pretty images, they look too similar and it gets stale.

That is barely touching the surfaces of how you can use social media but I thought a few tips could help. If you want to learn more about how to use your mobile devices check out the listing at the Discovery Spaces from Three and follow me @theboywhobakes everywhere for any upcoming classes I’m running. 

Cake Decorating Tips

In a continuing series of posts for Stork I have written a guide over on their blog about how to decorate a cake, so if you want to learn how to decorate a layer cake with either a simple swirl, ruffle piping or a with rosettes then take a look here there is also a wonderful recipe for a chocolate and dulce de leche layer cake too, a delicious celebration cake!

New Website and Recipe

If you have been reading The Boy Who Bakes for any amount of time you might notice it is looking all shiny and new. The site hadn't been updated for about 4 years and frankly I was bored of the look and it needed a change, If I was bored of looking at it I can't imagine what you thought of it! So over Christmas when everyone was asleep from too much food* I sat fiddling with squarespace designing the new site and I'm really happy with it, I hope you like it too!

You might notice that there is both a recipe and a blog page and this is for two reasons. I used to be able to post a recipe every week but at the moment I don't always have the time these days. I still want to blog but I also want the recipes I do post to be easy to find so I decided seperating the two would be the best way to go. The blog will feature things from my travels, posts about cookbooks im enjoying and basically everything but my recipes, which will of course find a home over on the recipes page - I hope that makes sense and works.

To confuse matters just a little bit more, to kick off the new site I wanted to tell you about a fab recipe I wrote for the lovely folks over at Designsponge. If Chocolate and Amaretto Pudding Pie sounds and looks good to you then head over to Designsponge and check out the full recipe. 

*and a bit too much wine!