Down a long, white marbled countertop set against a lofty ceiling with heavy, oak highchairs, a steady stream of patrons come through open bluebird-colored doors. Some are sitting down for a large slice of cake. Others are chatting over a hot almond latte, while others linger outside on a pair of baby pink and blue elephant chairs, mugs in hand, laughing quietly together.
At long last, wildly popular bakery Sweetpea Cafe, neé Patisserie, has found a home in Hong Kong’s eclectic Noho neighborhood. Beloved by their league of fans who were drawn to co-owner Angel Hon’s small-batch, handmade offerings of organic cakes and pastries, we are happy to report the cafe is completely gluten-free, along with weekly desserts selections that include egg- and dairy- free options.
Sitting down with tag team Angel Hon and Joyce Lui over their house-made coffee, we discuss their humble beginnings, inspirations, affinity to flowers, and why they decided to open a completely gluten-free restaurant.
Sweetpea’s story began when Hon’s friends (mostly in the fitness industry) begged her, as the only baker in the group, to create healthier desserts. She began, starting with organic-only ingredients, and word began to spread of Hon’s delicious baked creations. Friends with gluten and dairy allergies reached out to the former architect and asked for options to help address their sweets cravings without risking their allergies.
Hon started selling her cakes online to family and friends and a rapidly growing word of mouth community. As her popularity grew, she set up a little pop-up shop in Causeway Bay in 2015 to get a feel for having her own place.
“It was so tough, ” said Hon. “I was a one-man band, but it brought me so much fulfillment. I was so used to receiving an online order and a delivery time, [which] was so indirect. The personal interaction I was having with customers at Hysan Place was so important to me.”
After the pop-up, and with more experience under her belt, Hon started planning a more permanent home for Sweetpea. A chance meeting with Lui, a nutritionist who was allergic to gluten, led to them becoming business partners five days later- the two very much hit it off. Two years later, their labor of love, Sweetpea Cafe, is a haven for those looking for healthy meals, baked goods and desserts free from gluten, dairy, with a fair amount of vegan offerings too.
By the time we arrive in the early afternoon, the the dairy-free double chocolate chocolate cake has already sold out. In lieu of milk, Hon substitutes with coconut cream and coconut butter. She also adds organic (and edible) essential oils from Young Living to play with the flavor profile. Other fan cake favorites include the Banana Salted Caramel, the Double Earl Grey Tea, and the Green Matcha. A vegan-friendly option is also available on a weekly basis, and Hon shyly admits that it might just be the best recipes in her repertoire.
“I have let my friends and other customers try the vegan cake and they all say that they can’t tell it’s vegan, ” Hon exclaims. “No one can tell they’re egg-free!”
Her signature cake, the Chocolate Lime Passionfruit, was inspired by one of her favorite bakeries in San Francisco. With no formal culinary training, Hon credits her time living in California and her visits to legendary restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, as having a huge influence in her cooking.
“They have the simplest cooking approach, but the freshest ingredients, ” explains Hon. “You can taste how a carrot should taste, and that’s something I wanted to do.”
Keenly aware of the general public’s misconception of gluten-free baked goods as being overly dense, heavy and not tasty, Hon set out to prove everyone wrong. “With Sweetpea, I want people to know [that] gluten-free can be even better than your normal cake. It all depends how you make it, and if you put love into your cakes, you can really taste the difference!” says Hon with a sparkling laugh.
Driven by love, flavor and taste, Hon’s mission is to share her passion for good quality food. And the proof is in the pudding, folks! We sampled generous slices of the Insta-worthy cakes: light and airy, fluffy and soft, with the spongy chiffon-base that Sweetpea is known for, the flavors are incredible yet nothing is too filling. We also drank copious cups of lattes from their supremely talented barista- our fave is the matcha. Another trademark? The dainty, edible flowers that adorn the desserts. Hon has a strong affinity for flowers and her deep love for all things floral is evidenced by the cafe’s namesake, Sweetpea, her favorite flowering plant, the sweet pea, and her deep love for florals. Normally seen in fine dining dessert establishments, Hon wanted to add an elegant touch to her simple desserts in a casual atmosphere.
In addition to chiffon-based cakes, Sweetpea Cafe is also introducing savory muffins, all day breakfast, lunch (which includes gluten-free pasta!), and an afternoon tea set.
In the near future, be on the lookout for house-made smoothies, kombucha, and infused water. We can’t wait! Come to Sweetpea Cafe for a slice of cake not because it’s gluten-free, but because it’s by far one of the best cakes you will try in Hong Kong!
Images courtesy of Green Queen & Sweetpea Cafe.