Let’s not beat around the bush: Honolulu Café has an unfortunate reputation in Singapore. You would think that an established brand wouldn’t sink to such depths, but it didn’t take long for complaints to pour in about this Hong Kong establishment’s rude staff, mediocre milk tea, and perennially limited stocks.
What can establishments with poor reputations do, besides addressing customers’ complaints head-on? One way, of course, is to hire a PR firm and go on a charm offensive.
This is how I find myself in an almost-empty joint on a recent weekday evening. While I am unable to comment on service or the availability of its egg tarts because I’m on an invited tasting session, I am sorry to report that the tarts and milk tea are not so outstanding as to mitigate the poor press it has gotten. But generally, the food is not bad for its price.
Let’s start with what doesn’t work: its popular milk tea ($3++ hot / $3.50 ++ cold) is much too sweet. Perhaps it was a bad batch, but the tea was so cloying that I could not manage more than a few sips of the iced version. My dining partner was more intrepid and gulped down most of it, but he was soon consumed by an intense thirst. The café would do well to examine if its tea could be less sweet— customers can always add sugar to taste.
Thankfully, its signature egg tarts ($1.80++ each) and pineapple buns with butter ($2++ each) passed muster. One of the things of setting up shop in food-crazed Singapore is that comparisons to other known brands are inevitable. While these egg tarts and pineapple buns aren’t the most outstanding on this island, they are decent enough. The 192 folds that go into making each egg tart are not just a gimmick—I found the tarts pleasantly buttery with a good, firm bite.
I reserve my praise for the café’s newly-launched item, the Beancurd Tart ($2++ each). After carefully experimenting with different blends of bean curd and pastry, Honolulu Café has come up with a preservative-free confection made from 100% bean curd. Encased in a buttery, melt-in-mouth shortcrust pastry, Honolulu’s bean curd tarts are chilled overnight and are best consumed within 30 minutes of purchase. I loved how smooth and cold the beancurd centre was, and would have happily eaten two or more of this if I didn’t have to worry about the calories.
Still, Honolulu Café is not out of the woods. While its pastries are not bad at all, it will not survive for much longer if it cannot convince Singaporeans to visit this quiet corner of Orchard Road. Service is apparently a sticking point for visitors, and while the restaurant may seek to model itself after Hong Kong’s cha chan tengs, poor service should not be on its list of attributes to emulate.
Thank you Honolulu Cafe for the invitation.
176 Orchard Road
Tel: 6734 6609
Opening Hours: 11 am – 10 pm daily