3 new dessert cafes to satisfy your sweet tooth

The eclairs, parfaits and traditional Japanese wagashi from these three new dessert spots look almost too gorgeous to eat

1. Karafuru Desserts
1. Karafuru Desserts
01 Sep 2015

1. Karafuru Desserts

8 JLN KLAPA, S199320. TEL: 6291-4430. Open daily except Mon 1pm-10pm. Last orders at 9.30pm. www.karafuru.com.sg

We arrive at this week-old Japanese dessert cafe as soon as its doors open and there are already three bloggers inside, snapping away at a picture-perfect plate of matcha yogurt parfait placed carefully against a gleaming white wall. The all-white, sun-lit decor here would surely launch a thousand Instagram posts. Karafuru, which is Japlish for ‘colourful’, actually refers to the cheerful eclairs and parfaits the cafe offers.

This space is the brainchild of three friends: Michelle Au (right), 38, the founder of design studio Tofu and pop-up cafe Temporium, Tofu co-founder Jenny Widjaja, and Joseph Koh (far right), 39, an advertising director who opened hipster mod sushi joint Maki-San, which he has since sold off.  

1. Karafuru Desserts
1. Karafuru Desserts
01 Sep 2015

1. Karafuru Desserts

THE LOOK: If you’re a Kampong Glam virgin, it can get a bit tricky locating this 24-seater in a quiet lane near Artistry cafe. On a day when the weather is hot enough to kill ice cream cones within minutes, the cafe feels like a wonderful designer igloo straight out of Shibuya. Japanese pop songs play softly while the shop staff soothes our sun-scorched eyes in minimalist white T-shirts. “Aesthetics is important to us as creatives, and the Japanese marry aesthetics with food,” Michelle points out.

Helming the kitchen is pastry chef Michael Liu, a boyish 30-year-old who used to whip up tasty tarts at Windowsill Pies. The At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy grad has always had a soft spot for Japanese-style sweets, and he “makes wagashi desserts (delicate Japanese confections traditionally served with tea) as a hobby”. Grab a spot at the parfait counter, where you can watch him lovingly assemble parfaits with house-made ingredients. 

1. Karafuru Desserts
1. Karafuru Desserts
01 Sep 2015

1. Karafuru Desserts

Hanami ($16, feeds two)

Named after Japan’s cherry blossom season. It fittingly features pillowy, lightly sweet sakura soufflé alongside Greek yogurt and fresh milk soft serve, vanilla pudding and chewy dango (the Japanese version of tang yuan). The dango is slightly overcooked, but the humble chunks of crunchy, white chocolate-coated cornflakes are insanely good. A satisfying mélange of textures and flavours.

1. Karafuru Desserts
1. Karafuru Desserts
01 Sep 2015

1. Karafuru Desserts

Ume Shiso ($7)

Compared to their French counterparts, the Japanese-style eclairs here are made to be “lighter and fluffier”. Our expectations of a delicately crispy choux puff shell dissipate at first bite, no thanks to the overly-generous fillings which weigh down most of the pastry sticks so they become a tad soggy. But we did like this sophisticated number stuffed with appetite-whetting umeboshi (pickled plum), fresh cream, and wrapped with a shiso leaf. The herby leaf cuts the tang of the fruit. Also try the Black Forest ($7). A yummy riff on The Fat Duck chef Heston Blumenthal’s famed Black Forest Gateau recipe, this cherry brandy eclair also uses slightly tart candied wild cherries from Italian brand Fabbri.

1. Karafuru Desserts
1. Karafuru Desserts
01 Sep 2015

1. Karafuru Desserts

Pancakes ($16, feeds two)

This is both a deconstructed pancake and parfait. It looks so good we feel almost guilty for stabbing our fork into the elegant tower of smooth soft serve made with Greek yogurt and fresh milk. It’s less creamy and sweet than Llao Llao’s milky version, but also less jelak. A wedge of fluffy pancake soufflé cake with the texture of chiffon cake, a wobbly banana pudding and madeleines luxuriate in a pool of maple syrup. Tastes just like pancakes, but more refined.

BOTTOM LINE: Lovely confections in a beautifully designed space that creative types will love. It’s early days still, so some of its eclairs are hit-or-miss, but we’re more than happy to blow our “calorie quota’ on the excellent and whimsical Japanese-inspired parfaits here.

2. L'Éclair
2. L'Éclair
01 Sep 2015

2. L'Éclair

#01-28 SINGAPORE SHOPPING CENTRE, 190 CLEMENCEAU AVE, S239924. TEL: 9101-1971.Open daily except Mon. Tue-Fri 11am-8pm; Sat till 9pm; Sun till 6pm. Last orders at closing. www.facebook.com/leclairpatisserie

If Marie Antoinette became a modern-day tai tai, we’d probably find her at L’Éclair. The month-old cafe is opened by two Le Cordon Bleu Paris graduates and first-time F&B bosses, Sarah Tan and Michelle Looi, both 26.

“I’ve always wanted to open a pastry shop and we wanted to get a good foundation in pastry-making, so we studied at Le Cordon Bleu for nine months,” says Sarah, who left her job at SPRING Singapore to pursue F&B full-time. Michelle is a former accountant.

The pals started out selling their pastries online and participating in pop-up events. Their good-looking creations made constant appearances on social media. “We initially wanted to sell tarts, but decided on eclairs as Singapore didn’t have a [specialised eclair shop at that time],” Michelle says. Sarah adds that they were inspired by thriving eclair shops during their stay in Paris, which could “sell up to 1,000 eclairs a day”. At L’Éclair, 10 flavours are available daily. Teas from French tea merchant Betjeman & Barton are also on the menu.

THE LOOK: A modern French-style tea salon in tasteful shades of grey, purple and white. “Nothing too over the top,” laughs Michelle. 

2. L'Éclair
2. L'Éclair
01 Sep 2015

2. L'Éclair

Hazelnut Praline ($8)

Okay, so this is more like four profiteroles arranged together, though we’re reluctant to share the moreish puffs bursting with pastry cream blended with Valrhona hazelnut paste and caramelised hazelnuts.
 

2. L'Éclair
2. L'Éclair
02 Sep 2015

2. L'Éclair

Ispahan ($8.50)

This is easily the prettiest eclair of the lot. Compared to Karafuru’s eclairs, L’Eclair’s version is slightly longer at 12.5cm with a crustier shell that has a more satisfying bite. Rose-flavoured cream is piped into this one, topped with an edible rose petal and pearl. It’s very girly and very sweet, so pair it with a light, refreshing tea like the Lundi Light ($5.50 for a 250ml pot).

BOTTOM LINE: Other than a Quiche Lorraine, the chicken and bacon pie ($12) is the only other savoury item in the house, which fans of Sarah and Michelle’s would recognise from their pop-up stints. We’re impressed by these young girls’ baking chops, which could give more experienced counterparts a run for their money. But strangely, we enjoy the chicken and bacon pie here more than the eclairs, which are pleasant enough, but hardly life-changing.
 

3. Hashida Garo
3. Hashida Garo
01 Sep 2015

3. Hashida Garo

#04-16 MANDARIN GALLERY, 333A ORCHARD RD, S238897. TEL: 6235-2283. Open daily 10am-10pm. Last orders 9.30pm.

“The paper on the plate must face that side, or else it’s considered rude,” says chef Kenjiro ‘Hatch’ Hashida, 35. He spins the tiny black plate, on which a single macaron rests on a crisply folded sheet of white paper, away from us so that the paper’s sharp corners are not pointing at us. Such is the Tokyo native’s intense dedication to perfecting details.

He moved here in 2012 to set up Hashida Sushi in Mandarin Gallery after helping his father run his sushi restaurant near Tsukiji Market. He taught himself to make desserts, presenting his wagashi (delicate Japanese confectionery) desserts “as a surprise” to Hashida Sushi customers instead of the usual serving of seasonal fruit. “I’ve always wanted a dessert shop, but I couldn’t find a suitable space till now,” he shares. He opened Hashida Garo last month with an extensive dessert menu, along with a small range of simple savoury dishes and a retail shop selling exquisite treats like $380 Tenroku Junmai Daiginjo sake and the rare Hokkaido Densuke melon ($120).
 

3. Hashida Garo
3. Hashida Garo
01 Sep 2015

3. Hashida Garo

THE LOOK: We immediately feel the urge to mind our Ps and Qs when we enter the cavernous museum-like space. Its 20 seats frame a dramatic U-shape around a traditional tatami ‘stage’, on which tea master Kanna Ishiga from Tokyo painstakingly makes $30 cups of delicious house-blend matcha tea with a $7,000 water pot. The sight of three neon skateboards bearing the Hashida logo and modern artwork on the wall by chef Hashida himself (‘garo’ means gallery in Japanese) reassure us that we are not expected to show up in elaborate kimonos. “I skateboarded as a teenager,” explains chef Hashida, patting his customised $250 decks.

3. Hashida Garo
3. Hashida Garo
01 Sep 2015

3. Hashida Garo

Mizu Manjyu ($15)

A layer of silky arrowroot jelly marries subtly tangy yuzu strips and white bean paste. With a name that means ‘water dumplings’, these transparent orbs yield softly when we bite into them, and the cool mint syrup washes down each morsel nicely. No wonder it’s popular in Japan as a summer treat.

3. Hashida Garo
3. Hashida Garo
01 Sep 2015

3. Hashida Garo

Foie Gras Macaron ($12 each)

This macaron was first popularised by Parisian patisserier Pierre Hermé. While we have not tried the French version, chef Hashida’s rendition is as intense as the macaron’s inky hue. The umami flavour of French foie gras took over our palate, and we could barely taste the raspberry and apple powder sprinkled on the shell to tame its earthy heart. Enjoyable, but not for timid eaters. Four other flavours of macarons including hoji tea and yuzu are available ($3.50 each), each with a soft crunch and filling that’s just faintly sweet.

3. Hashida Garo
3. Hashida Garo
01 Sep 2015

3. Hashida Garo

Merlion Monaka ($5)

An adorable kaya-filled monaka (an Edo-era mochi rice flour wafer). Hashida made this traditional snack as “I told my friends in Japan I will bring back a souvenir from Singapore”. He commissioned a Merlion mould based on a statue he bought at Mustafa and concocted pandan kaya filling from an online recipe. His kaya is not bad, but a touch too sweet, especially mixed with the white bean paste. But it went quite well with the crackly monaka shell — even if our colleague thought the whole confection had a vaguely artificial aftertaste.

BOTTOM LINE: Elegant wagashi served with an elaborate tea ceremony is rare in Singapore, so this is a welcome entrant. The desserts here are as good as the sweets served at the stellar Hashida Sushi — but we can’t say the same about the run-of-the-mill savoury dishes.
  

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