When some respected French chef picks Singapore of all places to open a boulangerie, everybody flips.
As you might imagine, Tiong Bahru Bakery, named to represent the locale, has become the Laduree of Singapore. To be fair, it is most exciting. Set up as a collaboration between the Spa Esprit Group (which has no relation to American apparel retailer, Esprit) and Gontran Cherrier, a respected French chef with TV shows, books and bakeries to his name, it is his first outlet outside of his home-town France. The interior is simple, and everything that’s on offer, is displayed – from the intricate various loaves of bread to sandwiches and croissants, both savory and sweet, it’s an homage to wheat. Due to its relatively affordable pricing, the cafe is frequently crowded so you may find yourself hard-pressed to find a vacant seat, and unsurprisingly, the staff, a mix of Filipino and Singaporeans, are absolutely inept, so you can’t really trust them to do anything for you, much less assign you a seat.
If you somehow claw your way to an empty table, you’ll find your beverages served courtesy of Forty Hands. I’m well aware that there has been a resurgence of coffee-themed indie cafes, and I’m glad to see that people enjoy it and all, but I must confess myself not a fan of the Melbournian coffee culture. Some people really get defensive about “real coffee”, and going on about how it’s better than Starbucks, but the truth is, at least to me, it’s as milk-flavored as its commercial cousins – with all the balance and ratios between coffee and milk. I miss my days in Tokyo, where a simple cup of coffee – piping warm water over ground coffee beans, a dash of fresh milk and a sprinkle of ground sugar – could smell and taste better than any coffee I’ve had in Singapore’s so-called cafes with coffees made by coffee connoisseurs.
Seeing as I had to rush off to oversea a photo shoot, I didn’t quite have the luxury to explore what was on offer, so I opted for the signature. I supposed it’s the ultimate test, isn’t it? I was to judge (Yes judge, it’s essentially what we do, it’s inevitable) Gontran Cherrier’s expertise – years and years of experience, down to a single bun… and he delivered. The unorthodox Squid Ink bun with Smoked Salmon was a winner on so many levels. The bread was light and fluffy without being flimsy, and it had a real light bounce to it, unlike a lot of breads that can feel very filling. The finishing touch was a bottom layer of garlic-parsley, I guess you could call it pesto sauce, which rounded up the flavors together. While I’d gladly come back and try the rest, I must say that I prefer Maison Kayser a wee bit better purely because there’s a silky texture that was missing here, but Maison Kayser’s not a realistic comparison.
Like Maison Kayser, Tiong Bahru Bakery certainly blows places like Toast, epilogue cafe and Canele out of the water. I still recall the very jarring flavors of Toast’s sandwiches at my last outing with Inez, and for that price, Toast is looking very out-of-the-game right now. I haven’t tried Paul’s yet – I’ve heard about all the bad reviews, but I really do want to give it a chance.