Baker & Cook, Opera Estate

This is only the second time I have visited Baker & Cook. I don’t recall how I came to know about this bakery, but then I had wanted to check them out and back then I only knew about the one at Hillcrest Road. I was meeting a friend for brunch and since we had a ride, I mooted this place for coffee and some breads! Obviously, I was the only one who was keen to indulge in the breads but anyway they serve up a pretty good brew too!

So that was sometime back, maybe a couple of years or even longer. My memory has grown hazy, along with the haze that is shrouding our little city state currently. Bad analogy. But well, I was visiting my friends at their new crib in the Eastern part of Singapore, and after lunch at Bedok Mall, or whatever it is, the mall connected to Bedok MRT station, I wanted to grab my caffeine fix and they suggested this bakery where they thought I’d love, rather than our original plan of Starbucks.

It was only when they drove me there that I knew it’s Baker & Cook and I was delighted! Well even though I already had lunch and was not likely to be ordering any breads, which is what I so love, it was tea-time and so I prodded my friends to order some sweets to share! I probably had the lion’s share of it but oh well, at least I didn’t clean off everything solely. Haha.

So, we ordered a something-tart and a slice of Lemon Drizzle cake. The tart was quite nicely done as I remembered it, while the cake was a little of a disappointment because I found it to be a tad too sweet and moist. It wasn’t that I like dry cakes, definitely not, but this was a bit too dense and wet, like it hadn’t been baked enough? Or maybe that was how it was meant to be but I just have differing preferences.

When I posted it on Instagram with my rant though, someone commented that at least it looked pretty enough to be Instagrammable. Heh.

A closer look at the tart, which should be either peach or apricot with almonds? That’s what it looks to me. It was just a few weeks ago but it has totally eluded my memory.

Anyway the coffee (that came with a small cube of awesome brownie) did make up for that, and the company that afternoon was also great, catching up for a few hours after what felt like forever since we actually met!  
As I tried to name the 2 sweets that we ordered, I was checking out their website and menu and I just feel like trying so many things on it! Obviously, the breads would be the main item drawing me to them, seeing as to how I am such a big lover and fan of breads, but their locations tend to be a bit forbidding for me, except for perhaps the outlet at Intercontinental Hotel. Then again, I don’t think that would be as nice as their other locations at Hillcrest and Swan Lake.

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Asanoya, Tokyo

These days, it seems like all the famous brands, be it bakeries, fashion chains, restaurants or anything… are making their way onto local shores. From Paul, Paris Baguette, Laduree, Tin Ho Wan, etc., to H&M, Uniqlo, Goyard, Sephora, Lululemon, many have found their way here, even if not all manage to remain sustainable. There were some that have come and gone, and whether or not it is good or bad that they have come here remains debatable. We would rejoice that we do not have to travel several thousand miles just to taste the well-known macarons of Angelina (another famed French patisserie) that would be opening here soon, yet some turn their noses up at these, preferring instead to only have these when they visit the home-ground of these brands. For myself with a tight travel budget, I think I would not mind having them here, if not for the apparent  differences at times, when they are imported into Singapore. Despite that it is inevitable that they would cost more here than compared to their place of origin, there are times when the quality just does not match up.

Anyway that is not the point of this post. Asanoya, a well-known Japanese bakery, opened in Singapore late last year, and although I have read about it and saw lots of photos of their breads on local social media, Wilby Central at Queen Street is still a tad out of the way for me, especially when I consider the potential crowds or queues that I may be faced with. I don’t know how the crowd situation is like now but I still have not tried it in Singapore, to be able to make a comparison to this outlet and the one in Tokyo.

I had actually been past the Tokyo store that is located at Mid-town Roppongi, but that time when I was there I didn’t buy anything because I just took a look and went somewhere else. This time, I decided to go there for breakfast one day since I was craving for their Karuizawa green tea bread, which looked really good from the pictures online. Unfortunately, on both days that I dropped in they didn’t have it. 😦

The first instance when I went as I wasn’t able to buy any of the bread, I just ordered my breakfast, which is some bread baked with dried orange slices atop with a sprinkling of icing sugar. I don’t remember what it’s called but it has a texture that felt like a cross between croissant and bread. Major love although the icing sprinkled on top made it a bit sweet. I have a sweet tooth but it is a moderated sweet tooth that I have.It goes well with coffee of course. Black coffee goes well with almost anything, except perhaps yogurt, though that shouldn’t be the case since creamers and dairy stuff are added to milk too.  A closer look into the pastry, which contains thin layers of custard, making it less overwhelming than if the entire inside was filled with the whole chunk of custard. I spent a nice quiet morning enjoying this citrusy bread with the morning coffee.  On the second occasion there on my final day of the trip, they still didn’t have the green tea bread, so I left with a slice of the Karuizawa Blueberry bread. I love how fragrant this bread is, and I actually brought this back to Singapore, where I had it for breakfast the next day when I went back to work. It probably isn’t the healthiest bread to eat, considering that I have been told to cut out all these bread, flour, whatever stuff, but once in a while I suppose it is still ok to indulge. After all, where carbs are concerned, I can cut out the rice and noodles, but breads, pastries and things like potatoes (sweet potatoes or regular potatoes) are just something that I can’t seem to live without.I should make it a point to pop by Wilby Central at Queen Street one of these days!

Farine, Shanghai

The other place that my cousin brought me to was when we met up on Sunday, and he said he wanted to take me to this place to try “very nice French pastries”. I wouldn’t doubt his words because where gastronomic pleasures are concerned, he is definitely some sort of maestro. We met at a subway station and it was a really good, long walk from that subway station to Farine! I think there is a quicker way to get there, i.e. a nearer subway station, but he was having lunch earlier at some place and asked me to meet him there so that we could take a walk, because indulging in the pastries!

Sunday was a cold and windy day replete with ceaseless drizzling. There was some occasional respite, but somehow the entire atmosphere was still filled with the dense moisture of the rain and the winds were so strong! Despite that, as we walked and talked, under all those thick layers of clothing, I actually started sweating profusely. Eeks.

After a long time of walking where I lost track of the duration that we spent scurrying along the streets of old Shanghai, we finally reached our destination, Farine. You can read a short write-up about it here, where apprently nearby there is a French restaurant by the same chef, a Frenchman of course. Farine in itself is a small, cosy outfit with very limited room for dine-in, and since there were no available seats when we visited, we only ordered pastries and left caffeine for later.

Entering a bakery with the wonderful arresting aroma of breads and pastries baking is like nirvana to me, like unleashing a kid in a candy store. If I could, I would have bought up all the different types of breads and pastries and try them all. That is just a wild dream that will never materialise. 20131206-102400.jpg

Check out the displays of alluring pastries that look and smell so good, especially when a storm threatened outside, the indoor warmth of the bakery just makes me want to stay there for a long time. I didn’t try any of these since I was actually still fairly full from breakfast and a half-eaten not-so-nice slice of cake from Starbucks. But my cousin said they are pretty good, although he wasn’t a fan of the Kouing Amann, which he felt was too sweet for his liking. 20131206-102410.jpg

Next to the pastries were the sweets, which was his recommendation to me. I asked him which one was nice that I should try, and he said, “Just about everything”. Oh well, that’s really helpful. Don’t you think everything just looks so tempting and inviting? Their sizes also look like you could really afford to order more than one each, but then we being people with control, just ordered one per person.20131206-102416.jpg

He chose the chestnut tart, which resembled a Mont Blanc, but minus the cream. My cousin seems to really not like cream-based stuff because he said this is better than a Mont Blanc because of the cream, and there was this other puff-like pastry (somewhere on the left in the picture above) that he didn’t recommend because to him, there is just too much cream for him to like it. I took a little of the chestnut tart, which had a firm tart base and it’s really delicious! Of course it contained chestnuts and so bore its taste but what I liked about it was that it isn’t sweet like how we usually expect such tarts to be. 20131206-102424.jpg

My initial instinct was actually to order the lemon tart, because I imagined that I would enjoy the zestyness and sourness of the lemon tart, but remained undecided when I saw they had walnut tart too! I love walnuts, and to be very honest everything really did look damn good. In the end, when I laid my eyes on the pink grapefruit tart, I just had to give it a try. 20131206-102430.jpg

The grapefruit was probably added onto the tart after the baking was done, because it managed to retain its juiciness and suppleness. But the tart base here was a little different from the chestnut tart because it felt more flaky and soft, more croissant like than tart, and I had a bit of difficulty in the midst of eating this. Nevertheless, it was so good that as I was savouring this, I was quite sad that this would probably be the one and only time that I will get to enjoy it, since I would not have a chance to revisit during that business trip in Shanghai, and it will probably be some time until I next travel to Shanghai again.

We stood at a bar counter of sorts to enjoy our sweet treats, and after we were done, moved on out into the windy Sunday afternoon onwards to the next destination.

Address: Ferguson Lane, 1/F, 378 Wu Kang Road, near Tai’an Road (武康路378号1楼,
近泰安路); nearest subway station (Shanghai Library); closed on Mondays.

Swissbake

I have always wanted to try the products of Swissbake, but for some reason or another, I have not gotten round to it. On the various occasions where I have stood and pondered over whether I should buy their bread loaves for the week’s breakfast or not, I have always ended up getting some other brands of breads instead. It doesn’t help that their breads have extremely short validity periods, which could be a good sign of no or little preservatives added to enable them to keep longer. But it’s quite a challenge to have to finish an entire loaf by myself within say, 3 to 4 days. Well, I know I could always share them with my brother, if he is willing to.

Swissbake cafes are not a novelty I would believe, as there are already quite a number of them around, based on what is indicated on their page, and there is even one that is fairly near to where I work, albeit that it requires me to hop onto the MRT to get there. I really did it one day, because I needed to get out a bit and breathe some fresh air, and embarrassingly, I spent a disproportionate amount of time in the cafe pacing between the gorgeous displays of pastries in their buttery glazed glory, the neatly arranged bowls of salads and muesli parfaits in the chiller, and the premade warm sandwiches perched in a case on the counter. Finally, I decided to order a sandwich, generously packed with slices of turkey ham and cheese between two slices of what I think should be multi-grain bread, or their Kraftkorn bread.   20131014-083852.jpg

This is a pre-made sandwich that you can just order from the counter, but from a menu board that I read, it appears that you can also order custom-made sandwiches from them, although I can’t remember if they have a “salad-bar” concept of what’s available (like at Subway) for you to choose the item to go into the sandwich. Maybe I will try that the next time I drop into a Swissbake cafe.

Sandwiches these days seem to be pretty costly lunches, or maybe I am simply out of touch. This simple-looking sandwich costs S$8.90, although it does fill me up a fair bit, I think it might not have been sufficient for bigger eaters with heftier appetites. Nonetheless, it’s filled with goodness, though the copious amounts of cheese made it a little too salty for my liking. Now that I think about it, Subway sandwiches cost just a tad lesser, depending on what fillings you choose, and at cafes like Coffee Bean and Starbucks (which I seldom ever order their sandwiches), sandwiches easily cost more than this, but then they come complemented by side salads or chips. 

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The mesculun salad in this sandwich has been worked in between the bread too, and they serve this up with a tiny portion of diced tomato, as an appetiser perhaps. I didn’t try their beverages since I already had coffee that morning, so I don’t know if their caffeine is any good. But there will always be a chance in future I’m sure. And perhaps I will also finally buy their bread loaves and pastries to try too!

Benslips Cafe, Germany

The place I visited last week is the typical European town where life basically comes to a standstill on Sundays. Well, there were still people around of course, but almost all businesses and shops were closed. I got there sometime around noon, surviving a 12.5-hour flight and another 4.5-hr journey on several trains, and despite that I was mentally and physically tired I wanted to head out because as I have heard, that is the best way to overcome jetlag. I’m not sure if it works or not, getting out and having some sun (whatever is available, at least it’s daylight) and try to get into the normal hours of the foreign locale rather than sticking to what your body is accustomed to at home.

After walking around for a short while exploring the small town, I settled into this cafe that was open! It was fairly empty when I dropped in, not that the town was crowded anyway. For those few days, I kind of appreciated the change from the bustling city life of Singapore where at each and every turn at almost every waking hour of the day, I am constantl inundated with crowds, on the subway, at the malls, everywhere!

The thing I really love about Germany, at least from what I have seen so far, which is really little, is that bakeries abound and their breads are major love. It feeds the bread-lover in me and my eyes just sparkle with excitement each time I pass by a bakery (known as Bäckeri in German), visually devouring all the golden brown goods on display. I had a hard time trying to choose something, because despite that there were lots of bread choices, there were things that I wasn’t sure what they were, i.e. the pastries, and my knowledge of German is extremely finite and limited. This was what I picked:

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An apple strudel, with a cappucino. Or should it be called an apple pie or apple crumble? What’s the difference anyway? I should have just ordered a normal coffee, because somehow the beverage didn’t sit well with me. Or at least that was what I thought, maybe it was the milk because there was some odd smell to it that made me not really want to drink it, or perhaps I have gotten too used to drinking coffee without milk. Yes, the latte-drinker in me seemed to have converted into something else.

I actually didn’t know that the apple strudel was going to be such a big portion because I thought it was just half of this but when it was dished onto the plate I kind of regretted and wished I had ordered something else instead, such as a slice of cake or some breads. 20130829-102745.jpg

To be very honest, I didn’t enjoy the apple strudel that much either. I liked the top, for its crispiness and crunchiness, and of course the sweetness that helped to bring my blood sugar a little higher to combat the fatigue for that short while. I picked out the top and the apple slices in between, and left most of the crust intact. I was a little concerned initially, because when I was in the shop, I could see that in the display, there were lots of insects flying around and my first thought was “yucks”, but I think those were bees rather than flies, because of all the sweetness contained in these pastries. During the course of the week, I discovered the same thing in every bakery I walked into and on some occasions I actually walked off without getting anything because I was grossed out. But to be fair, I didn’t fall sick after that. Back to the strudel, the crust wasn’t fantastic because I prefer those crusts that are not so soft.

However, in general, I still love the smells wafting out of these bakeries whenever I passed and wished I could just pack everything back. I won’t be able to finish most of it and will be wasting money for sure, but that’s where my irrational love of bread and pastries emerge.

Oh, and this wasn’t so expensive. For the large slice of strudel and the cappucino, I paid only 3.30 Euro, which is less than S$6. For Europe, that is considered cheap, and even in Singapore, we already have to pay about S$6 for a latte or cappucino at the cafes!

Cedele, Novena Square (re-opened!)

The Cedele branch at Novena Square, which is not easily missed since it is right in front (albeit a little towards the left) of the exit from Novena MRT station when you take the escalator up to Novena Square, is the one I usually visit on weekends. It used to be a really tiny outlet with limited seating but on those days that I pop in, it isn’t hard to find a seat because I go at times that are perhaps not so popular. I love the food at Cedele, and although this branch isn’t a full-service restaurant, it is still a bakery cafe where I can get my fill of tasty and healthy sandwiches. If you want cakes and pastries, they have it here too. So I was a little dismayed when they closed sometime in early April (or maybe even earlier) for renovation, and from the boarding, it seemed like they were expanding to take over the next unit, which I think was a jewellery store before.

I got an email (since I have the Cedele loyalty card) from them that this outlet would be reopening on May 9, last Thursday, and was fairly elated that I can again enjoy these great sandwiches nearer to me, without having to trek all the way from the MRT station to United Square (which I am not so fond of anyway) or go to other Cedele outlets further away.

Well, renovating a place is supposed to be for the better, but I think in this outlet’s case, it isn’t really all that good a thing, at least not for me. Many Cedele outlets seem to suffer from the same problem of understaffing, or that could be the case for most F&B outlets (or other businesses for that matter), so their premises tend to appear a little unkempt and messy, with food debris from patrons left uncleared on the tables occasionally. I can live with that actually, since with sandwiches and pastries, these aren’t that gross to the sight. After the renovation, indeed the Novena Square branch looked much better. I don’t have a picture to show, but the store front looks much more prominent than before, especially now that it has taken over the unit next door too, the entire shopfront has become wider and therefore, more open. I suppose having such open concept seating is meant to lure more customers in, and at the same timer perhaps discourage people from staying too long by getting cosy in a more enclosed space? At least that was how I felt, I wouldn’t want to sit there for long periods of time, because now that they have instituted this open-ness, there are actually people who stand hovering around your tables waiting for you to vacate it. Isn’t this supposed to be a cafe, and not a food court? I find this unacceptable, but maybe that is the aim of the business owner, to improve customer turnover. As I was just starting on my sandwich, a family of four was standing near my table, and the mother allowed her two young kids to prance around in front of me, playing with the chairs at my table. How blatant can you get to ask me to hurry up, eat and leave? But surely, she can see that my sandwich is 10% consumed and I’m not going to wolf it down like a cheeseburger in MacDonald’s because you need a table right? I paid for the food, which is not cheap by the way, and I get the privilege to sit for as long as I want to enjoy my food.

With this renovation, they have also put in place the same “self-service” concept that I talked about at Millenia Walk, where you place your order at the cashier and pay up, get this electronic disc that you wait for it to beep, then collect your order at the counter. I really hope they will improve on their use of this method, because currently it is plain stupid. You get beeped, and I weave my way around the tables to get to the counter at last, to be greeted with my drink, and was asked to return again later (when the disc beeps again) for the sandwich. Have they considered to prepare all of the customer’s order and have it ready first on a tray before beeping so that the customer only needs to come by once? It’s not rocket science and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you are not going to serve the food and drink to the customer’s table, at least minimise the need for the paying customer to walk to and fro. And they don’t bother to offer a tray, cutlery or serviettes, all these you need to ask from the counter, which is also sharing space with the cashier, that makes the whole service of food/drinks cluttered and messy. If Cedele had wanted to push this idea of self-service, they should have thought about having a segregated service area for order pick-up, not unlike those of Starbucks or Coffee Bean, rather than having everything at the cashier.

And maybe I was imagining things but the roast chicken avocado sandwich I ordered that day seemed to have shrank. From the aerial view it still looks the same since the bread loaf hasn’t changed, but inside it just feels like the ingredients have been reduced. Do businesses reduce the value by cutting back on ingredients whilst maintaining the prices to claw back the costs of renovation?

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It wasn’t a pleasant experience that evening, from the whole ordering, getting my orders piecemeal (and I’d only ordered two items, imagine if I had four), and then eating my food all the while having to tune out the distracting vultures circling around waiting to swoop in when I clean off the last morsel of food on my plate.

Oh, and lastly, I ordered a soy latte that felt like heated soy without the latte. I don’t think it’s my imagination from the already bad dining experience but I just didn’t feel the coffee at all, even though I hadn’t had a single ounce of caffeine at all the whole day and was looking forward to a nice cup of latte.

Maybe it is a great business idea because I can see that business seems more brisk but the human touch feels absent. In dollars and cents, I suppose it makes economic sense to have high turnover of customers and people coming and going, but then it feels just like another fast food outlet in the end.

Cedele, Millenia Walk

Most Cedele outlets are fairly small, based on experience of the ones that I generally frequent. Probably because they are bakery-cafes and as such it doesn’t make economic sense to run a large outlet because it’s costly. They aren’t big like the chain cafes around that can afford to have large premises to accommodate crowds especially those who tend to linger for a longer period of time. The only bigger Cedeles that I have visited are the all-day dining restaurants at Wheelock and Great World City and even then, they are not considered that big. But Cedele is one of my favourite bakery cafes, not because I think they serve great coffee (which again I reiterate I am not particular with coffee, or translate that to: “I don’t have very high standards where coffee is concerned”) but because I am such a big lover of bread, sandwiches and pastries.

I had chanced upon one of their outlets at Millenia Walk sometime ago because church service was in the vicinity then, and on Sunday evenings, the crowd in that area tends to be thin, so it was not difficult to get a seat despite that space is really limited in the cafe. Last weekend I thought I’d go there again after an appointment in the area, and although I was tempted to check out some other cafes that are in the same building, my craving for a nice sandwich drew me to Cedele. I should have already guessed as much when I looked around the cafe (empty at that time except for one group of patrons) and saw the tables in disarray and not cleaned; there were leftovers of cake on the table from patrons before, and water spilled on table tops were not wiped up.

After checking out the menu and seeing some of the available sets, I thought it would be good to order a half-sandwich set (that comes with coffee) so that I could have an additional order of a pastry or the likes. I didn’t really read the promotional words carefully so I asked the cashier, who told me, with an exaggerated look of disappointment on her face, that the set I asked about was only available in the mornings for breakfast (as are most of the other sets, by the way). She stopped there, without offering suggestions or basically to ask what I would like to have but instead stood behind the cash register with the same look on her face.

Decided to just go for my usual order of sandwich and coffee, and used the Cedele card that I had with me. I couldn’t really recall how the card works, but it’s a card that I paid S$25 for and came with a certain value (points) that I used back then to pay for my purchases. I kind of thought it worked like a store-value card where when I top it up, I get some additional bonus points or if I used it for payment I’d get a discount. Apparently not. It’s just a card where you earn rebate points on when you make purchases and present the card, and the rebate points can be used to redeem against your order in future. This was what the cashier explained to me, in a somewhat impatient and annoyed manner. At that point, I think I was feeling really hungry so I too got kind of annoyed.

After making payment, I was given an electronic disc that would need me to go back to the counter to collect my items when they are ready. It’s so weird that when the cafe was empty, they’d still bother with it, why not just go for the better customer experience and deliver the order? The cafe is not that big after all and I chose a seat that was just a few steps away from the counter. So my coffee was ready and I went to pick it up, without being given any serviette or teaspoon, and check this out: 20130508-094907.jpg

 

Was the cup not properly cleaned, or did they pour the coffee onto the handle and forgot to wipe it off? I got some napkins from them and tried to wipe the handle but the stains seemed to have been there for a while so it couldn’t have been the latter. As much as the other Cedeles I have been to thus far hadn’t really delivered in terms of customer experience, I think this was probably one of the worst, because of the dirty cup and the uncleaned tables. Of course, I’m still the sucker and whiner because I didn’t ask them to change a cup for me or something, probably also because I thought it wouldn’t make things better or make any difference.

At least when my sandwich was ready they decided to bring it to me, and the food was still good. I love their sandwiches and the breads used in them, so I always return despite that customer experience is zilch.20130508-095001.jpg

Despite this, I would still commend them on one thing though, while I was munching on my sandwich, one of the waitresses actually brought me a cup of water, without me asking for it! The cup seemed to be leaking though because as it was set on the table, a pool of water started forming under it after a few minutes. Yet with that simple gesture and the great sandwich I had ingested in my stomach, they have still managed to keep me as a customer, and yes I will give them another chance in future.