Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Before COVID-19 was part of our normal vocabulary and while MW Restaurant still occupied the old KGMB building, they hosted afternoon tea once a month, usually on the third or fourth Sunday of each month. For about $50, MW would offer your choice of hot or chilled tea, a scone and six or seven savory small bites plus another six or seven desserts. They also would offer additional savory or sweet courses for an additional $7 to $15 if those small British-inspired bites didn’t temper your appetite. About the only thing that wasn’t British was the time, as reservations ran from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.; British afternoon tea usually starts at 3 p.m.
But after a prolonged hiatus, first due to COVID-19, then subsequently making the move from the old KGMB building to Velocity Honolulu and with loosening COVID-19 restrictions, MW restarted their afternoon tea events in late March.
A Long Time Coming
We secured our table on the last Sunday in April. After arriving, we selected our teas. I ordered Earl Grey as I love that fragrant hit of bergamot perfuming the tea, though MW’s Maui Earl Grey was perfumed with both bergamot and lavender. Ms. S chose the chilled Mango Peach Iced Tea and Ms. C opted for the MMP Iced Tea containing matcha green tea, moringa (kalamunggay) and pineapple. After our teas were served, we immediately started with a round of cocktails. Ms. S selected the Yuzu Paper Plane ($16) – the classic Paper Plane contains equal parts of bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino liqueur and lemon juice. MW’s version swapped Toki whiskey in place of bourbon, Amaro Montenegro in place of Amaro Nonino and yuzu instead of lemon. Less whiskey smokiness and a better balance of the sweet and sour flavors; in fact it was so good I almost ordered it for my dessert. Ms. C selected the MW G&T ($15), their version of the classic gin and tonic but because of the Empress 1908 gin, which starts out blue but changes colors depending on the mixers, was initially lavender, the calamansi syrup that was mixed in turned it pink. Because the two women selected my first and second choice of cocktails (and my rule is to order a different cocktail than everyone else on the table), I ordered the Double Take ($16) with rye whiskey, coconut chai, banana liqueur and orange bitters. Though it was my third choice, it actually paired nicely with our starter, strawberry scone with yuzu curd, and our savory bites.
The Savory Courses
Crab and Clam Dip
Smoked Salmon Arancini
Spinach, Mushroom & Artichoke Crostini
Chicken Mango Salad
The women also elected to order the supplemental steamed onaga with dried scallop sauce and ginger soy ($20), and I “had” to order the Brandt Brand Beef Tartare ($12). MW also comped us a plate of the Ahi Poke Nacho ($14) – I think it’s because Ms. C and her husband frequently dine at MW and we also both celebrated our respective kanreki last year at MW.
The crab and clam dip, spinach, mushroom and artichoke crostini and shepherd’s pie was very good. I also enjoyed the Reuben. I still feel nothing can replace the classic Reuben with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on toasted rye, especially taking that first bite with the juices running down your cheek and hands. However, I could have noshed on several more of the salmon arancini especially with my glass of Prosecco. I also could have taken home a Tupperware full of the Chicken Mango Salad with the first crop of those luscious Mākaha mangoes that MW orders every year if the restaurant allowed take home quantities. And I’m always a sucker for raw beef – chopped (tartare) or thinly sliced (carpaccio) especially when a runny egg yolk is involved.
Passion Orange, Ka‘u Orange & Guava Chiffon Cake
Butterscotch Banana Mille Feuille
German Chocolate Cake
Sakura Strawberry Eclairs
Hojicha Roll Cake
Lilikoi Jello Chiffon
Makaha Mango Cheesecake
Both women also ordered the supplemental Mākaha Mango Shave Ice ($14) as our server informed us that MW’s annual order for those Mākaha mangoes just arrived several days earlier. We were in luck as our afternoon tea outing was the first day that any of Chef Michelle Karr-Ueoka’s mango desserts would be served this season.
Because I don’t have a sweet tooth, the miniature desserts served at afternoon tea are perfect for me as they are just one to two bites. And there’s a reason why Chef Michelle Karr-Ueoka is a multiple James Beard semi-finalist, including this year. The passion-orange, guava chiffon cake was reminiscent of Dee Lite Bakery’s tricolored chiffon cake and a treat for Ms. S as she’s still in mourning over the closing of Dee Lite Bakery. The Butterscotch Banana Mille Feuille combined two of my favorite flavor partners: banana and caramel. While the dessert didn’t actually contain caramel, the rich butterscotch mimics the same flavors in caramel all encased in those flaky “thousand layers.” Mango also found its way into a little round cheesecake, which was the ideal size. I enjoy cheesecake, especially those classic New York style junior’s cheesecakes, but after two or three bites, I start feeling like it’s too much of a good thing (like that fourth sip of a McDonald’s chocolate shake). However, these afternoon tea bites are the perfect size to enjoy but not feel like you’re forcing down that thin mint wafer (Monty Python joke). The dessert epiphany was the Hojicha Roll Cake.
I’ve sampled many versions of matcha beverages and desserts and the key is balancing or masking the bitterness of matcha. Because hojicha is the whole leaf, roasted version of matcha, some of that bitterness is masked and you also create a touch of nuttiness. When combined in a dessert, it creates a toasty, caramel flavor that pairs perfectly with whipped cream. This was the one dessert that I could have sampled a full-sized piece instead of a simple bite.
And finally, our palates were cleansed with that bowl of Mākaha Mango Shave Ice! As long as those Mākaha mangoes are in season, Chef Karr-Ueoka has always created this refreshing dessert by simply grating frozen, ripe mangoes and mixing some julienne fresh mint. Apparently, Mākaha mangoes don’t contain those mango “strings” as the shave ice has the mouth-feel of fine ice. And MW also lists it on their menu properly as “shave ice” and not “shaved ice.” Shaved ice and snow cones are only served on the mainland, in the 50th we only sell shave ice!
MW Restaurant intends on continuing these monthly afternoon tea events. For updated information, go to mwrestaurant.com or call 808-955-6505.
Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet” (nichibei.org/columns/gochiso-gourmet/).