Duke Bakery | United Square, Novena

Life’s…life, really. You never know what you’re going to get.

One of the rediscoveries that I’ve made over the year or two in what has, and will continue to be a lifelong journey of gastronomy and lifestyle is bread. 2011/2012 heralded the launch of Spa Esprit’s joint venture with baker Gontran Cherrier for Tiong Bahru Bakery. Eric Kayser’s own, Maison Kayser also opened, albeit with less hype but with a quality far exceeding that of its home stations in Paris. Locally, homegrown boulangerie, Barcook held its own against the avalanche of French pattiseries. My passage to Japan, Europe and even China enhanced my appreciation for well-made breads.

And the truth is, unlike wine, there’s no real secret to understanding bread. The recognition is instantaneous – it’s either good or bad. In this respect, consumers can be very unforgiving, and the challenge, even for the most pedestrian of bakeries (Four Leaves, Q Bread and BreadTalk in Singapore, to the big boys like Gardenia or Sunshine Breads), is keeping the quality consistent every single day.

After my fairly late lunch in the Novena area, I decided to take the opportunity to check out Duke Bakery. After all, from my lunch venue at Novena Fish Head Bee Hoon, I would’ve to pass by this place to get to the bus stop. Anyways, this Taiwanese retailer has been receiving unbelievably rave reviews by “surprise, surprise” media food bloggers (who were invited to the bakery’s debut event). Seriously, with all the hammering of blessed positivity from all these “blogs” and “websites”, you’d think that Duke was the best thing to arrive in Singapore since chicken rice. And you’d believe it, too. Why shouldn’t you? They’ve been showering you with faultless recommendations and limitless options for your next meal.

Duke Bakery is a Taiwanese brand which predictably bakes “European” breads using the Japanese style baking, which is supposedly light and soft – the complete anti-thesis to European baking which views light and soft breads as an example of flawed baking. I’m not here to get into the debate of which is better, but let’s just say we live in the part of the world where we’re more receptive to different schools of thought. Therefore, we could thoroughly accept that there are different applications. For example, the mark of a good croissant is its crisp shell while Barcook’s classic raisin cream bun wouldn’t be all that if it was firm…it’d just be like BreadTalk’s cranberry cheese bun. Not that the latter’s inferior or anything, but Barcook relies on the contrast and subversion between the soft, light bread and the richness of the butter cream centre to create the impact that it does.

In line with the artisan theme, the store is graced with dark furniture with the spotlights literally on the neatly uniform breads lined on fine wooden racks. There are even samples of the limited selection of works for you to taste. There’s a sense of craftsmanship, fine tailoring and luxe retailing…and they need it: most of the breads here are retailed at prices of SGD 7.40 and above.

During the tasting…I had to try everything – the breads are expensive and the portions are huge. While there was an intrigue for the Asiatic selection, the Western ones were a mixture of hits and misses. The Swiss Chocolate and Milk Chocolate seemed subdued, and is certainly not for everyone who loves chocolate. Perhaps, those with diabetes or going on faux diets might find these black collections appealing, but it didn’t work for me as I thought it’d would. However, the flavors were familiar enough for me to recognize them, and quite frankly, the handling was a little rough on the edges. The bread really tasted as if it had been left out for days – pulling out the pieces and forceful chewing is almost certain for most of Duke’s stock. Despite that, nothing really stood out. I eventually bought the Chocolate Cheese merely because I need at least one picture in my blog posts.

Because the breads tend to be on the large side, Duke Bakery offers a cutting service. But this was where everything went wrong. While paying, I requested for the cutting service to which the reply was, “Sorry, we can’t cut. Our baker isn’t in today”, which honestly…words couldn’t describe my shock. Honestly, working in the service line, you’ve gotta watch what you’re going to say. You might not think much of it, but customers (passengers if you’re a flight attendant) live on the words and actions you say or don’t say to them. In my mind, I suddenly began seeking answers to questions which I never had to think about.

Very disappointing, and it’s unlikely I’ll visit the bakery soon.

p.s. If you were wondering, the Chocolate Cheese smells and looks better than it tastes. The flavors, particularly the chocolate can be very subdued, which is distressing if you’re greeted with a sizeable amount of slightly savory cheese.

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