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Archive for the ‘restaurant encounters’ Category

The closure of the old Mandarin coffee shop was a sad day in my opinion. I loved it. I loved how it blended a sense of formality with an air of casualness. It was a place to drop in, not reserve (they didn’t take reservations anyway). The big chairs were elegant but comfortable. The wide open room at street level was always busy but never loud. The seating was spaced close enough to eavesdrop on your neighbours, if you tried, but far enough a way that you had a sense of intimacy at your table.

You could drop in for a cup of tea in the afternoon, holing up in a corner by the window and tucking into a stack of newspapers available by the door. The service was hopelessly unreliable but always courteous.

With that in mind, I confess, I was not the most open-minded about eating at the “new” coffee shop: Le Causette.

First of all, being above street level (the old coffee shop space is now a Chloe store), it doesn’t have that “let’s drop in” feel. You now need to plan and reserve to go to the new coffee shop.

It has been decorated in a modern-Asian style, very chic. So chic in fact that the term ‘coffee shop’ no longer applies. Whereas the old version was a cafe affectionately known as a coffee shop, the new version is an uptight restaurant disguised as a cafe.

The place left me cold, and that wasn’t just because the air con was set to numb. The tables are arranged in various areas, spaced in a way that defuses any sparks of ambient energy from being generated. The tables are stone and the wood is cool and dark. The waiters are well-meaning but hovering. The black and white suits worn by the old waiters have been replaced by new surfer-style, long sleeve white T-shirts which look like as if they might even have an SPF factor built in.

I can’t imagine dropping into this place for a casual cup of coffee, and that’s a shame because the coffee was the best part of the meal. The Asian platter had a selection of items, none of which were any better than Green Thai in Wanchai (which offers great Thai food in a trendy setting, for about a third of the price). My grilled scallop salad was tasty but hardly remarkable.

Yes, I miss the old coffee shop. It was so much more than just a place to eat, it was a place to meet friends, entertain guests, kill time, rendezvous with a new love, have heated discussions about the show you just saw, or just read a magazine. The new cafe will never be anything more than another over-priced, impersonal, hotel restaurant.

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Today, Neil and I had to head over to Soho to visit our tenant and check out a problem in the flat. Two-thirds of our offspring are now at an age where they can be left at home, with a chain of command decided by age, so we told them we’d be back in about an hour.

After poking around with the plumbing in the flat we paused on the quiet terrace street in front of the building and thought “wouldn’t it be nice to have breakfast in Soho?” We walked down to Peel Street to the Brunch Club — a restaurant we had passed on other occasions but never tried.

It was 11am and we were amazed to score a table right away. I guess Soho-types don’t emerge from their flats before noon. The restaurant has a friendly, casual atmosphere with white sofas, piles of magazines (for sale and browsing) and an outdoor terrace.

I felt slightly guilty ordering breakfast when my last words to my own hungry children as I exited the flat were: “Fend for yourselves!” But I overcame it and ordered the eggs benedict with smoked salmon.

The food was OK. One of my eggs was perfectly poached, the other overdone. The hashbrowns were not cooked properly at all — some were still raw. But I can still see coming back for another visit.
Not many restaurants in Hong Kong feel like neighbourhood hangouts, but this one does. The crowd was a mix of expats and locals, mainly couples, all adhering to a similar dress code: girls in summer skirts and tank tops, guys in baggy surf shorts and flip flops. We couldn’t help but notice how many of them knew each other, there was a fair amount of socialising. Like I said, it was a friendly place to hang out.

I couldn’t help but laugh when Neil said that this would be the kind of place we would eat at if we were still single with no kids. I laughed. “But we are eating here,” I said. And at that moment we realised that our family had reached a level of independence where we could do all the things we used to do before we had kids, just maybe not as often.

The Brunch Club No. 70 Peel Street, Central. Open everyday 8am-midnight. tel: 2526 8861

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