Mr Simms’ Olde Sweet Shoppe, with its golden lettering and subdued brown and white decor, is a perfect model of the Victorian-era English sweet shop. First popularised in the 1950s, traditional sweet shops have been making a comeback thanks to a blend of nostalgia and curiosity. According to Amy Shuai, co-owner of Mr Simms’, customers not only include expats who long to recreate their good old childhood experiences, but also younger sweet-lovers who want to sample the sweet-shop experience.
During our tasting session, Amy Shuai explains that sweets are often associated with moments of pure joy, and can show how these flavors of joy change through the ages. This is something that Mr Simms’ does very well. The Olde Sweet Shop captures the best of traditional English confectionery, which to the new taster can be exciting, tasty and occasionally surreal.
As a team of young reporters, we were introduced to sweets that we had never tried before like the Apple and Custard bon-bons, floral gums, and dolly mixtures. Among the most interesting was the Wham bar, which we were told was simply ‘Wham’ flavored and cemented our molars together when we chewed.
Enclosed by rows of glass jars filled with colourful pick-and-mix sweets, it wasn’t hard to understand how this feeling embodies the ‘good old days’.
Yet the ‘good old days’, as sweet as they may be, are only relevant to a bygone era. Are traditional sweet shops bound to become less popular in the future?
For now, the answer is no. According to Amy Shuai, shops like Mr. Simms’ cannot be replaced by simple grocery store visits. “It just isn’t the same to say to a young child, ‘We’re going to the supermarket’! Sweet shops are fun, magical, and even good opportunities to bond.” It is precisely this sense of shared wonder that is so dear to our hearts.
Ultimately, enjoying sweets is not just a matter of reliving good old days. At the heart of our nostalgia for the “olde” sweet shops is our desire to belong to a sense of tradition that is greater than ourselves, and benefit from sharing a sense of community. Chew on that thought for a while.
When I want to get some sugar in my system, I will most likely pop into the supermarket and grab packs of Skittles and Haribo gummies. I never thought about how limited my choices are until I went into Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shop in Central.
What really struck me was the shop’s layout and design. Though it is fairly new, it has the layout of an old sweet shop, with jars of sweets lining the back wall of the shop. It had a very homely feeling and I felt like a child in a … well, a sweet shop.
I learned that opening a shop in Hong Kong was not as easy as it seemed. Although Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shop is very popular in the UK, they had to adjust their stock accordingly as the Hong Kong target audience had different preferences to Britain. Products became popular because of Chinese culture, for example Luxury Mandarins became popular because of the Chinese custom of eating mandarins during Lunar New Year. One product they made specially for Hong Kong was the egg tart fudge. I thought it was exciting that they tried to blend into the local culture and it was a fresh experience for me, tasting the sweet flavour of egg tart in a sticky fudge.
Another thing to take into account was the weather. As Hong Kong has a hot and humid climate, the sweets would melt and stick together in the summer, despite multiple dehumidifiers and air-conditioners. Therefore, most sweets are individually wrapped to prevent them from sticking together. Amy also told us that the staff come in every morning and shake up every single one of the huge jars of sweets that aren’t individually wrapped, like bon bons, to stop them from sticking together and keep them separate. However, she was quick to add that although Hong Kong’s humidity might give the staff extra work, it doesn’t affect the flavour of the sweets in any way.
Do you have a favourite candy? I’m sure everyone has one, and I’m almost certain it appears on Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe’s bestsellers list. From Bonbons to toffee and fudges, we tried them all, and they all taste heavenly.
One of the most memorable ones for me was the flying saucer, a cute disc shaped like a UFO, I liked it even before I tried it. Inside, it has some sugary powder, the UFO is actually rice paper with different colours. Traditionally, these Flying Saucers were used to encourage children to take medicine. Pretty smart!
Most of the other best sellers are gummy candies. Chewy and fruity; what’s not to like? They come in all shapes and names: Fruit Salad gums, jelly babies, cola bottles, Fruit Pastilles ... you name it, they have it!
In Hong Kong, cola bottles candies are seen almost everywhere, and I’m sure everyone has seen them, if not tried them. But one unique thing about the cola bottles at Mr Simms is that they are made using the old, traditional recipe. This means they taste less “gummy” and more “chewy” as Shuai explained to us.
The watermelon slices and peach hearts are other popular favourites. With such fruity names, you can practically class them as healthy eating.
My personal favourite as the toffee. The shop had all sorts of flavours and I tried the ‘Nutty Brazil’. I love its name because it’s so catchy; I’m also a big fan of toffee, next to chocolate of course. When I took a bite, I could really taste the nutty flavour as the smooth toffee melted in my mouth. It’s not hard to see why I go nuts about it.
Iris Or Hoi Lam
Apart from the standard sweets you can find in a supermarket, Mr Simms Olde Shoppe offers a range of oddities for those who have an unusual taste, or the ones who simply want to step out of their comfort zone.
For instance, liquorice and salted liquorice are very different to other sweets. Originally extracted from a plant, liquorice has a unique bitter taste to it. You might not be so down with the taste and even the hard texture at first, but as time goes by, the taste evolves and gives your tongue a special sensation. Definitely one worth trying.
Besides bitterness, sourness is also not such a popular taste in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, tonnes of people, like me, enjoy it. Mr Simms Olde Shoppe knows just what’s appealing to our tongues. Ranging from sour fruits, to the ultimate black death acid drops, the sourness scale at Mr Simms is hard to beat.
But it’s not just the new sweets that taste unusual, some of the traditional sweets are pretty different, too. Aniseed twists and aniseed balls, both made from the medically-beneficial plant aniseed, are not a flavour we’re used to in Hong Kong. The cough candy twist clove drops share some similarities with these. They all have a tougher shell so you’d have to suck it for longer. Though, they’re more healthy than most of the other sweets because of their ingredients. Cough drops can actually heal your toothache! Take note of that.
Talking about healthy, Mr Simms Olde Shoppe is always getting with the trend. People tend to love healthy sweets these days, so the shop has catered accordingly. With lots of flavouring added, you can hardly tell it’s sugar-free!