On August 11, 2018 talented baker Jin Yee Chung of The Baking Jin hosted his very first pop up, titled East Meets West. I was delighted to experience Jin’s take on Afternoon Tea, along with a group of guests who were eager to try his bakes or have been long time fans. The pop up took place at Romano’s. We all gathered around an inviting communal table on a Saturday afternoon.
Jin, who hails from Borneo, is a software engineer by day (that’s Dr Jin – he has a PhD) and a baker by night. After winning the Cambridge Bake Off in 2015 with his stunning DNA cake, Jin continued baking, experimenting and perfecting his cakes. He is known for his light and airy chiffon cakes and has a growing list of customers for private orders. He also supplies a few cafés and has been featured in The Cambridgeshire Cook Book (2015) and The Cambridgeshire Cook Book: Second Helpings (2018).
East Meets West was loosely based on the concept of Afternoon Tea with a sweet and savoury parade of fusion dishes from Jin’s native Malaysia and beyond, paired with two intriguing teas: Jiaogulan and Chrysanthemum.
We were welcomed with a gorgeous mocktail which Jin named Blue Purple, because it changed colour. A carafe of lime-honey liquid was poured into each glass of blue pea flower liquid, which changed the colour of the mocktail from blue to purple. The batch of blue pea flowers, grown in the garden of Jin’s late grandparents in Malaysia, was picked and dried by his aunties. How special is that? On a more local note the honey was from East Hatley, only 15 miles from Cambridge. A pandan leaf was placed into the mocktail for a hit of its sweet, vanilla-like aroma. We nibbled on lobster crackers and keropok (prawn crackers) before we took our seats.
The table was beautifully laid out and the orchids were a nice touch. There were information sheets on types of cuisine (Nyonya) and ingredients for guests to gain a greater understanding. The menu only listed the courses and not the specific dishes, for an element of surprise.
Jin came out of the kitchen to introduce and explain each course. It was great to hear about the inspiration behind his creations and his kind, friendly personality really shone through.
The first course was a savoury one, featuring two fusion pastries arranged on a banana leaf. The dishes were delicious. The Baking Jin can also cook! We enjoyed a roasted pepper and tomato sambal tart (Jin made the pastry from scratch) and beef rendang, which Jin wrapped in filo, effectively turning it into a giant spring roll. The beef was local (from Hereford cattle in Suffolk) and sourced from Mill Road Butchers. Side dishes included Chinese turnip and rocket in Thai salad sauce as well as a cucumber salad in sambal yogurt. I didn’t find the tart and rendang too spicy but the chillies on the cucumber salad were. Jin provided a bowl of yogurt with turmeric to cool our palates, if needed.
The Nyonya Kuih course was the transition from savoury to sweet, starting with pumpkin kuih (Jin used butternut squash) featuring rice flour, shiitake mushroom and dried shrimp.
Then it was over to kuih seri muka, featuring two layers with glutinous rice in coconut milk at the bottom (salty) and pandan custard at the top (sweet).
Kuih lapis was the culmination, which Jin created into rainbow colours for a bit of fun. Lapis means “layer” in Malay and we were encouraged to peel back the layers and eat them one by one. The textures of the kuih were chewy and sticky, unlike anything I’ve tasted before but I loved all three.
The Pandan course featured kaya – a coconut jam infused with pandan – on toasted sourdough. Pandan layer cake (layered with pandan custard jelly) and pandan black sesame chiffon cake rounded out the tasty trio.
More chiffon goodness followed in the Fruity course, featuring a Japanese strawberry roll (Jin’s take on the British classic strawberries & cream) and orange & chocolate chiffon cake, with a small cup of mango & passion fruit mousse for a tropical flavour between cakes. Just perfect!
The Cheese course was a clever way to present dessert. Jin’s original creation of pandan chiffon cake topped with cheddar and blackcurrants alternated my taste buds between sweet and savoury. The combo was surprising at first but I liked it and finished it all up. The Japanese soufflé / cotton cheese cake was pillowy soft and light-as-air, yet somehow still creamy. Simply amazing.
The finale consisted of longan tofu, a recipe Jin’s mum has been making for many years for visitors during Chinese New Year. This sweet tofu, made with soy milk, set with agar-agar and mixed with longan fruits and longan syrup, was an acquired taste but I love the fact that Jin included something so special to him.
Espresso served at the end (Gatare Rwanda, single origin) was sourced from The Coffee Officina, a small batch coffee roastery based in Essex. Aidan – helper, waiter, mocktail pourer and crafter of the lovely serving boards – also knows how to make good coffee, complete with latte art. The coffee was served with one final treat – peanut cookies made by Jin from scratch.
I appreciated the little details like giving out boxes to take home our leftovers, so nothing went to waste. Jin even had The Baking Jin t-shirts designed for the occasion – very professional. They were worn by Jin and his team (Jerry and Aidan), who both did a great job. Service was efficient and unobtrusive with our tea cups and water glasses regularly replenished. The pacing between courses was perfect – we weren’t rushed but there were no long gaps either.
The whole afternoon was so well organised. It did run longer than the 2 hours but no one was in a hurry to leave. In fact, we were already hoping for another one to be organised soon!
Jin mentioned that his first pop up was a day he will cherish for a long time. So will we, Jin!
Although I had a small hand in organising the event, all views are my own. It is based on my experience at my own cost and I did not receive compensation for my review.
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