Where good bread comes from.
I really do miss my late winter serenade in Paris. What really impressed me about the city wasn’t the sights, but something a little more down-to-earth. To wake up to a view of the Haussman rooftops and chimneys, walk to the nearest boulangerie for a bout of croissant served with an assortment of creamy unsalted butter and rich, sweet marmalade paired with freshly squeezed orange juice and a hearty cup of French coffee – all sourced from the frontiers of the French nation…such was the life, really. And coming from a country where virtually everything’s imported from somewhere else, the idea of living off the land and combining it with artisanal skill crafted from decades or even centuries of experience is something that’s very alien yet organic and romantic to me.
Not that I want to become a farmer or move to the countryside or anything, but I’ve always felt that because Singapore is so vulnerable to outside influences, Singapore and Singaporeans therefore lack a stable foundation on which to anchor their identity by. How do you know where you should go if you don’t know where you came from?
After my dinner with Darren and Nene Chicken, we still had quite a bit of time to spare so Darren suggested we check out Artisan Boulangerie Compagnie. As if to prove that talent isn’t everything, Artisan Boulangerie Compagnie doesn’t get as much press coverage in Singapore as its more commercialized French counterparts like Gontran Cherrier’s venture with Spa Esprit, Tiong Bahru Bakery, and Eric Kayser’s global chain, Maison Kayser. The generically but precise title, Artisan Boulangerie Compagnie is helmed by Eran Mayer, who’s a two-time award-winning Grand Prix de la Baguette (the Olympics for Parisian bakers) finalist. Like many entrepreneurial Europeans, he sold his bakery in Paris, uprooted his family, and moved to Singapore to share his skills, and foster a culture of bread appreciation in the “new” New World.
The result is a quintessential piece of a contemporary Paris boulangerie – from the decor and furniture, to the assortment display of breads, pastries and cakes – located in the heart of Asia. And there’s a whole lot more. Mayer is known for being a pioneer, and from his days in Paris, has always strived to create an additional collection that reflects his boulangerie’s neighborhood. In his second outlet, it’s echoed by the “Killiney Loaf”. Despite being located in a somewhat central location, the prices were more palatable than say, Paul’s and Tiong Bahru Bakery, so we were better able to sample a wider selection of Mayer’s spread. Having tried just four things, I must say I’m quite impressed.
Diners who enjoy Gontran Cherrier and Eric Kayser’s versions of the croissant – crispy exterior with a silken, smooth flesh will find themselves falling for Mayer’s iteration as well. Paired with butter and jam, they enhance the brilliance of this French classic. A word of advice, though. The staffs are caring enough to offer to warm up your breads, and will do it without hesitation but they aren’t necessarily the best people at gauging how long is enough. Therefore, the croissant and pain du chocolat were served to me a lot more tan than they actually are, and the exterior is for me, subsequently too crisp. It’s not a criticism of the breads themselves, for they’re amazing, but in my next visit (and there certainly will be), I’ll be sure to just have them as-is. The pain du chocolat itself justifies the whole trip down, really. I can’t recall if Tiong Bahru Bakery sells it, but Maison Kayser does, and theirs doesn’t hold a candle to this.
We also had the Rhubarb Pie. Ever since I’ve began to watch BBC Lifestyle with its various British-focused shows such as Masterchef, rhubarb has steadily become somewhat of a fascination. So, I’m always on the lookout for them in Singapore. They look like celeries if they were red, and while they’re actually considered vegetables, rhubarbs are often cooked with sugar and served as a dessert in pies especially. A good rhubarb pie is expected to be sweet with a tart, zesty bite to it. However, much of my rhubarb expeditions frequently end up in spectacular failure, culminating with Marche’s horrendous version. This one here, seemed to be quite pleasant and possessed the characteristics of what a rhubarb pie should taste like. The Madeleine was fine: nothing spectacular, but then again, Madeleines are hardly eaten on their own, which is what we did.