[HK] Agnès b. le pain grillé

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The design of Agnès b. is more than fashion with her desire to clothe people's feelings, emotions and lives. Being a keen observer of daily life, she considered dining an important part of one's lifestyle, which truly is for most people, ourselves included. 'le pain grillé' means 'toasted bread' in French, which is an essential element in French daily diet. Of course, it does not mean just a piece of bread but rather an iconic symbol to French cuisine. Integrating the concepts of French cafe, bistro and cake shop, let us begin our voyage discovering the authenticity of French food!

Despite the french cuisine observed at Agnès b., the custom of enjoying afternoon tea originated from the upper classes in England in the 1840s.  Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford was widely accredited as transforming afternoon tea to the late afternoon meal whilst visiting Belvoir Castle. Charles II of England's wife, Catherine of Braganza was however credited with the honour of introducing tea to the court upon her arrival in 1662. It was not till the end of the 19th century where afternoon tea became a custom enjoyed by both the upper and middle classes of the society.

The sugar and the caffeine of the tea provided fortification against afternoon doldrums for the working poor in 19th century. The labourers would enjoy their afternoon snack with a simple small sandwich or baked scone accompanied with a cup of tea, while the upper classes would enjoy a more luxurious fare with smoked salmon, ham for their sandwich fillings and clotted cream or jam to go along with their scones. It was however not till the 20th century where the methods of preparing and serving afternoon tea became a snobbery affair. The lower social classes would enjoy their tea 'milk-in-first', pouring the milk in first and followed by the tea while the upper classes would enjoy it the other way round.

Despite the popularity of afternoon tea nowadays even in Asia, it is often a treat in a hotel, high end restaurant or a tea shop. This emphasized how closely the custom stayed true to its origins, which belonged to the lifestyles of the affluent.

Agnès b. Special Black Tea

The proper and unique way to enjoy afternoon tea is not merely the quality of food and tea served, but rather  as soon as one arrives at the table. The setting for the table has to be meticulous, china cups and saucers, a dainty linen table cover and even matching napkins. All these were attentively being well taken care of at Agnès b. The sugar cubes were already in a closed lid container at the table, so the pot of tea was only brought along with some warm milk. (Yes, serving milk should never be cold for it would affect the temperature of the serving tea). The choice of loose leaves in the tea pot was authentic and prior to serving, one should pour it through the strainer, just so to ensure that you do not get some tea leaves in your cup of tea.

The black tea leaves were very fragrant and typically, they were more oxidized compared to its relative oolong, green and white teas. As such, black tea is generally stronger in terms of taste, flavour and colour of brew. A perfect wake-up cup of afternoon tea was in place for the lady before the food test, but how about the coffee?

Verdict: 8.5/10

Black Americano

Readers of our blog should be familiar by now that I drink nothing other than a hot cup of freshly brewed black Americano whenever I need a hot beverage and enjoyed like how it was served - no sugar nor milk. This was a perfect brew and from the machine, I have a few good suspects in mind (Lavazza or Illy - though it would more likely be the former since I make my own Illy's espresso and this seemed like a bolder brew) The acidity of the coffee was well balanced with the desired level of bitterness in the coffee, without leaving you scouring for some water to wash it down. 

Verdict: 8.0/10

Afternoon tea set for 2 ($318/-)

Scones with apricot jam and clotted cream

The scones were served warm which scored another tick on the score sheet. I was seeking for a comparable rendition to the recently tried high tea at Joel Robuchon, but I remained challenged. The apricot jam was luxurious, thick and rich with small pieces of apricot fruit. The clotted cream was perfect, being right in every way it should be, light and fluffy though not too airy on the inside either. It was mildly sweet, just sufficient to complement the jam. What I desired most and still made me salivate was that it was not greasy at all which would not cause satiation. For the first time, I would actually help myself to more clotted cream not simply for food tasting, but rather the want to enjoy more.

The scones were crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. It was fragrant and thoughtfully being sliced into half. There was a good 'buttery' flavour and taste to the scone itself, but it could be richer like that tried at Robuchon. This is however a purely personal preference but I would certainly enjoy this scone over and over on any given day.

Verdict: 8.5/10

Warm prawn, polenta cake and avocado mousse

Personally I did not quite enjoy this as much due to the prawn being overcooked. The prawn was crunchy but barely and the surface had a stiffened texture to it. It might be owed to airing or exposure. The texture of the polenta cake was good but it lacked thickness and mass. The size and texture of the prawn dominated this treat and the sweetness from the cake but the richness from the avocado mousse compensated. It was thick and rich in texture due to its density, yet mild and subtle in its flavour. It would have been a perfect mouthful bite if the polenta cake had greater mass to give the snack more volume and sweetness to balance the flavours.

Verdict: 6.5/10

Smoked duck breast and confit cherry with quinoa

I simply love the combination of this unique concoction. The smoked duck breast tasted almost like parma ham and the quinoa seeds helped to give the 'beaded' texture. The confit cherry which was wrapped underneath the smoked duck breast was soft, ripe and burst out with juices. I would have preferred a crisp touch to the dish to round up the textures, but it was still an interesting treat.

Verdict: 7.5/10


This gave the afternoon tea a 'French' touch for this grilled ham and cheese sandwich originated in French cafes. The name came from the verb croquer (to crunch) and the word monsieur (mister). Typically Emmental or Gruyere cheese is used. We suspected that it was either squid ink or charcoal toast but we figured it would more likely be the latter. The toast was done perfectly, very crisp surface with a slightly soft interior, so you know that you are enjoying toast and not 'biscuit-toast'. The melted cheese was generous and together with the ham slices complemented the making of a savoury sandwich.

Verdict: 8.0/10

Cod fish and leek

The biscuit-like base to this snack was the same as the toast used in the croque monsieur. It was crisp and was very enjoyable with the mashed cod fish. The usage of fresh cod fish was ideal for it did not possess an acrid and fishy smell which might put diners off. The texture of the cod fish was smooth and tasted almost like fish paste. I would like to compliment the finishing touch with the slices of fresh cucumber, which gave a note of crunchiness to the bite.

Verdict: 7.5/10

Mascarpone and Nuts Shooter

Most foodies should be familiar with mascarpone, which is an Italian cream cheese, coagulated with citric acid. The mascarpone carried a rich and sustaining taste yet the texture was light. The chopped nuts on the surface of the cheese gave a gritty, coarse texture to go along with the smooth cream cheese. Certainly a good shooter to titillate your taste buds a little and get them prepared for the sweet treats coming up.

Verdict: 7.5/10


Served with a slice of fresh fig, it stirred interest in my appetite even before trying out those savoury snacks. I am a huge fan of caneles and figs, so this was something that I was really looking forward to. Canele is a small French pastry with a soft and tender custard center and a dark, thick caramelized crust. It has this classic striated cylinder shape and originated from Bordeaux region of France though it is also a treat commonly found in Parisian patisseries. The shape comes from the similarity in French of the word wave with the word 'cannelure' which meant corrugation or striations. It is made from egg, sugar, milk and flour flavoured with rum and vanilla, though the last two ingredients were an improvised version which originated from the first quarter of the 20th century.

After some background introduction, on to the actual food tasting. To be perfectly honest, I was rather disappointed. The shape seemed rather 'willy-wonky' and did not look too stable on the plate. It was too dense and tasted too much of the flour despite the chewy texture which was good. Being a sweet treat, the caramelized crust was insufficient to bring out the much desired nectarous nature of this snack.

Verdict: 6.0/10

Cheese Puff

I felt that the cheese puff was too salty for my liking. Despite the crisp texture on the outside contrasted with a light and fluffy interior with pockets of air, the overall after-taste was too dry. I was expecting some moist cream on the inside to neutralize the texture but it was actually cheese which added a tinge of salinity to the taste. Perhaps it was not what I had in mind prior to tasting, but it certainly did not deliver a pleasant surprise on the after-taste - too dry and salty, I would pass on that on any other given day.

Verdict: 6.0/10

Fruit tartlets (Melon and pineapple)

The bases to the tarts were solid crusts and it was the cookie-biscuit type. Depending on individual, the custard on the inside and the stiff crust went 'okay' by my standard though I felt it was rather pedestrian and nothing too impressive to blow me away. The chopped fruits and nuts scatted at the top gave a good contrast in terms of texture, with the crunch from nuts and a sweet mellow softness from the fruits.

Verdict: 6.5/10

Artisan chocolate

The chocolate balls certainly took us by surprise when a fresh blueberry fruit exploded as you bite into it. I was expecting it to be dense, possibly with some ganache like most chocolates but this was something new and different. The chocolate cake in the middle was rich and the dark chocolate was bitter-sweet. As the saying goes, save the best for the last. Being the last delicacy left on the tea set, the luscious chocolates were indeed the perfect treats to round up two satisfied foodies' stomachs.

Wine cellar.

The ambiance of the restaurant was cosy and with a quiet setting, it was the perfect place for couples on a lazy Sunday, friends to catch up over some tea and coffee or even for a more formal event such as business lunch. The service of the waiting staffs were impeccable and they were attentive to our requests. I must commend on the generous offering in terms of fine quality ingredients used and the thoughtfulness of the restaurant in general. They provided Aesop brand hand wash and on top of that, luxurious Aesop hand lotion were supplemented for customers' usage. This was our first visit and certainly would not be the last for this was a true French dining experience infused into one's lifestyle and certainly left us with a good impression.

Agnès b. le pain grillé
15/F, Cubus, 1 Hoi Ping Road,
Causeway Bay
Tel: 2577 2718

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