Live by bread alone
Artisan Boulangerie Compagnie
118 Killiney Road #01-01
Tel: 6444 8130
Hours: 8am-10pm daily
IF Eran Mayer had his way, Singaporeans would visit their neighbourhood bakeries three times a day, just to pick up fresh loaves of bread and pastries for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Acknowledging that it may take a few months or maybe a few years, "it is my aim to see each household in Singapore with a loaf of fresh, preservative-free bread in the middle of their table all the time," says the 41-year-old, adding cheekily: "We're going to throw the rice cooker out."
Mr Mayer is the head baker at week-old Artisan Boulangerie Compagnie (ABC), a smartly done up French bakery along Killiney Road owned by The Zest Group, an F&B company that also invests in brands such as Twelve Cupcakes here.
But Mr Mayer isn't just pushing for the brazen consumption of carbohydrates, rather, a finer appreciation of the craftsmanship that goes into bread making.
Which is why at ABC, a long chef's table of sorts is the first thing you see when you step into the 1,800 sq ft dine-in space. It is possibly the best seat in the house - as from there you can take in unhindered views of the sprawling 2,500 sq ft kitchen that cost them $700,000 to fit out, and Mr Mayer within it, sniffing at baguettes coming fresh out of the oven or waxing lyrical about letting the breads sing their song (his poetic way of referring to the subtle cracking sounds made by the baguette crust as it cools).
"Bakers usually do their work at night, so that when people come into the bakery in the morning, all they see is a wall of beautiful pastry," he says. "Our idea is to expose the magic, to let people see the ovens, the handwork, and the creative process that goes into our breads."
And Mr Mayer is a bread and butter geek if we ever met one: he eagerly launches into a discussion on the finers points of butter from Normandy versus butter from Charentes-Poitou (the former is where the butter he currently uses is from; the latter, where he would like to import his favourite butter from); and only flour imported from Minoterie Viron, a small family-run flour mill in Chartres, west of Paris, is used in the kitchens of ABC. Everything is mixed in-house, pre-mixes are strictly forbidden.
So ABC's baguettes may not all turn out uniformly shaped, but that's the whole point. From the uneven folds in each flaky layer of his rich, buttery croissants, to the scarification atop each baguette - or what Mr Mayer calls the "baker's signature" - he says: "I like when you see the hand of the artisan in our breads, it reminds you that it is made by a human, not a machine."
It's no mean feat, considering that Mr Mayer's kitchen team of 18 has to churn out more than 50 different items (including more than 15 types of breads) that are sold at the 75-seater each day - but that's the only way Mr Mayer knows how to do it.
Born to a German family in Israel, Mr Mayer spent most of his 20-year baking career working in artisan bakeries across France, and has even taken home top honours in annual baguette competitions in the country.
Unlike other bakery chains that bank on flying in consulting French chefs to perform quality checks only from time to time, Mr Mayer is here to stay, and so is the bakery's consistency, he says. He uprooted his homemaker wife and two daughters, aged three and nine, to Singapore in June, and now lives just a few paces from the bakery.
In homage to his new neighbourhood - chosen largely for its promixity to residents, whom he hopes to convert to regulars - he christened his signature bake the Killiney loaf ($18 for a 1kg loaf, also available in 500g). Made from on a personal recipe he's been perfecting for the last 25 years, the loaf is a hefty, rustic chunk that resembles a leg of parma ham, but slices open to reveal a bouyant and slightly moist centre.
Other creations from the expansive range include pastries such as zesty orange brioches and lemon tarts to start your mornings with, to hearty rye grain and cereal-studded dark bread, and raisin-filled muesli loaves. Prices generally range from $2 to $10.
Savoury food items such as salads, toasted sandwiches, quiches and pies, and cheese and charcuterie platters showcasing the home-made breads are available for lunch too, while a weekend brunch menu will be rolled out in a fortnight. Plans for a second outlet in Great World City by year-end are also underway.
"The whole idea is to create a happy place, where our bakery becomes an extension of people's homes," adds Mr Mayer.
By Debbie Yong
In full bloom
86 Robertson Quay #01-01
Tel: 6737 9873
Hours: 8.30am-5.30pm daily
AFTER two attempts at holding down what her father deemed "a proper job" in the banking industry, Melanie Ng, 29, found herself trading it all in again to return to her first love - food.
The latest project for the former Goldman Sachs banker: Anthesis, a month-old 1,7000 sq ft cafe tucked within a gorgeously restored warehouse along Robertson Quay.
There is a sense of deja vu for Ms Ng, who similarly gave up a banking role in Morgan Stanley in 2009 to co-found dessert chain 1-Caramel in Handy Road with the One Rochester Group (she has since sold her shares back to the group).
"I thought it'd be easier the second time, but it isn't," laughs Ms Ng, whose older sister Severine, 36, is also a business partner.
Instead of just focusing on pastries (the lemon tart is a must) and desserts, Anthesis - which refers to the period when a flower is in full bloom - offers freshly baked breads, hot food and a range of gourmet teas, coffee and craft beers.
Though Ms Ng herself has been a hobbyist baker since her undergraduate days in Sydney, she roped in veteran baker Gan Eng Ling, 50, to run things on a more commercial scale. He churns out innovative creations such as oatmeal carrot loaves and spinach and parmesan brioches, on top of usual bakes such as mini baguettes and walnut breads, on a daily basis. Pastry prices start from $2.50 for a macaron, while breads cost upwards of $2.80 for a short baguette.
The food menu is designed to showcase the cafe's homemade breads, so you get bread platters, eggs on toast, soups and salads and brunch staples such as eggs benedict, pancakes, and a banana split French toast stack ($16) made with slices of brioche and drizzled with maple syrup, caramelised banana and fresh strawberry slices. For something a little more unconventional, go for the tuna tataki sandwich ($18), lightly seared pepper-crusted slabs of tuna perched on a sourdough toast and coiffed with alfalfa sprouts and avocado. All the sandwiches on offer can be made from your choice of bread ranging from wholemeal, sourdough, ciabatta, baguette or a more premium selection of multigrain, olive focaccia, herb, dark rye, pumpkin seed or walnut bread.
The house coffee, meanwhile, is a blend of Brazilian, Sumatran and Guatemalan beans specially customised by a local coffee roaster, while teas are from American organic tea specialist, The Art of Tea.
Ms Ng and her team are currently working on a dinner menu to be launched early next month to cater to the area's laidback and largely residential evening crowd.
"We chose this spot in Robertson Quay because it's very relaxed, you don't feel like you're in Singapore - even though you're right in the heart of the city," says Ms Ng, of the 70-seater loft-like space, with 25 alfresco seats by the edge of the Singapore River.
When operations stabilise, Ms Ng also plans to wholesale her breads to other independent cafes.
"People are more health conscious these days, and the best way to ensure your breads are organic and preservative-free is to do it yourself," explains Ms Ng.
By Debbie Yong
A first for Lady M
Lady M Confections
Marina Square Shopping Mall,
6 Raffles Boulevard, #02-103
Opens Sep 8
Hours: 10am - 10pm daily. Last orders at 9.30pm
THEY say that sometimes it's not what you know but who you know. That was, indeed, how ViJay Pillai came to open acclaimed New York cake brand, Lady M's first offshore outpost in Singapore.
Scheduled to open to the public tomorrow, the 56-seater Lady M Singapore is only the chain's fifth store; it has three other outlets in New York, and one in Los Angeles. The brand originated in New York's Upper East Side in 2001, and quickly grew to become a cult hit in Manhattan with long queues for its signature layered crepe cakes.
Lady M was founded by Kumi Romaniszyn and her son Ken - both family friends of Mr Pillai, 27, who will serve as their Singapore director. He also runs Caerus Holdings, an F&B group that manages restaurants in Malaysia and Singapore and a wine distribution business in India and the Maldives.
According to Mr Pillai, the two parties only decided to embark on this joint-venture together some time last year, even though Lady M Confections has been around for over a decade. One reason he took his time was that he wanted to be able to maintain the quality of the brand, which depends a lot on getting the right ingredients. "Getting the cream and the flour was the hardest part. Making the cakes is purely about ingredients and technique," he states.
Their signature mille crepe cakes, for instance, are made up of 20 layers of thin crepes, with a cream filling between each layer. Each cake has to be handmade over a period of 10 hours, from the time the batter is mixed to the time it is placed on a cake stand. Since it is such a long process, their team of six bakers in the central kitchen can only make about 30 cakes a day, and a total of about 200 cakes if you include other flavours and pastries, says Mr Pillai. "Our biggest worry now is to be able to meet the demand," he adds.
The upside of the joint venture, however, is that he has some help from the New York branch. One of Lady M's founding chefs is relocating to Singapore, and will stay on to develop new flavours incorporating local accents.
Meanwhile, customers can expect an initial selection of eight of the brand's core cakes, such as the signature mille crepe, the green tea mille, strawberry shortcake and berry tart, along with individual pastries such as the Mont Blanc and chocolate eclairs. More items will be gradually added to match the full selection currently available in the US. Tarts will average $9 per slice, while the signaure mille crepe cakes will go for $7 per slice and $40 to $65 for 6-inch and 9-inch cakes respectively.
A second, more intimate 900 sq ft outlet in One Fullerton will open in October, and will be positioned as a slightly more intimate, late-night dessert bar.
Despite the Marina Square Singapore flagship being twice the size of Lady M's original New York outlet at 2,000 sq ft, Pillai says he hopes to adhere to the same concept of keeping the focus on the cakes.
As such, the decor of the Singapore store will be kept to barren white walls on purpose. "The idea is to let the cakes stand out the most, and become the focus of the whole store," he says.
By Rachel Loi