There are three main differences between Paul Bakery, Maison Kayser (MK) and Baker & Cook (BC). Paul and MK are French but BC is a mixture of baking styles, French, Danish, German, just like the multi-cultural global city, Singapore.
Furthermore, from the naming of the shops, you can already tell the difference: Paul and MK focus on branding of a famous person (“Paul” and “Kayser”), making their outlets more commercialized. While Dean Brettschneider has 10 best selling cook books and hosts culinary shows, he doesn’t cash in his name for the shop. He uses a nondescript “Baker and Cook,” a simple name to blend into the neighborhood, and from its simple name, you’d know the focus is not on the celebrity chef; the focus is on the food, the baked and cooked food.
Like the naming of the shop showing how BC focuses on the food, not the branding, the third difference, the location, demonstrates BC’s insistence on quality of food. Paul and MK are situated in town while BC is part of a neighborhood and will be opening two more outlets in neighborhood area by the end of this year. The location plays a part because the location shows the kind of business philosophy. Paul and MK are more mass-produced and commercialized whereas BC aspires to integrate into the community and neighborhood, and so the food is carefully made. And this desire to serve the community also shows in the decor.
Decor: At the junction of Hillcrest Road and Greendale Ave, the shop has full-panaled glass, letting the neighborhood see its interior and you can see the neighborhood from the inside. It is at one with the surroundings. A huge wooden communal table in the shop again shows how it allows people in the neighborhood to come together and chat. Altogether, the decor is unpretentious and comfortable.
Donuts or doughnuts
There are two menus, which confused me, because they are both available throughout the day so why not combine the two into one?
All Day Dining Menu
Tartines ($12.95)–open-faced French sandwiches–comes with various toppings and we tried the egg mayonnaise and smoked salmon. While the smoked salmon tartine is well-made if unremarkable, the egg mayonnaise is amazing. The silky, slightly sweet egg mayonnaise is served on a slice of crusty hard pain miche, which is (I suspect) tinged with rye flour and has the slightly sourish dough taste. Hence, the egg mayonnaise and pain miche contrast and complement in both textures and flavors. Furthermore, capers and cress are thrown into the mix, giving a peppery, tangy relish. It puts the “zing” in “amazing.”
The quiche ($7.95), which comes with salad and chutney, is one of the best sellers. When we were there at 4pm, we had the last of the two slices. Mind you, I think these slices had been left there for some time but they were still smacked of awesomeness. It was still moist with a nice tomatoey piquancy–you know, not those horrible acrid tomato taste–and very, very light, unlike other quiches. The crust was thin and at the right degree of brittleness, not too crispy like potato chips but not too doughy too. If you’re looking for a light bite, this is it.
There are different varieties of bread and you can bring a loaf back or you can get sandwiches ($8.50) with various toppings and choose the bread. Here, I want to recommend three types of bread.
Turkish pide ($3.95) is highly recommended in 8Days and Sunday Times and although I don’t always agree with their judgement, I concede to their wisdom in this case. It is the crispiest of crisp on the outside and so soft inside. It has a sweetness that is similar but less sweet from the Chinese white sugar sponge cake. It is so good you can eat it on its own. There are free homemade jams–raspberry, mixed berry and apricot–on the table. Or you can make it into a sandwich ($8.50) too.
The other two breads I want to recommend came in a bread basket.
Freshly Baked bread & viennoiserie selection (for two or three $9.95) has a selection of 4 breads and this changes daily. Out of these four breads we tried, the two that stood out are the German Volkorn and croissant.
The croissant isn’t the delicate, crispy, airy sort. It has a pleasant denseness and is very savory. I couldn’t describe the taste exactly (because there were two mini ones shared among 6 of us and I couldn’t take a second bite) but it is unique. I want to return to try this.
The German Volkorn ($6.95 in a loaf) appeals to a European sensibility. It is very, very dense and heavy with a sourish taste (from sourdough) and an earthly, musky taste like seeds (from the rye). Singaporeans won’t like this but if you live in Europe for a while or if you’re European, you’d like this. It is an acquired taste, like durian.
Eggs benedict ($16.95). Anthony Bourdain and I are of the same opinion: brunch is crap. Two eggs selling for near $20?? That’s 4900% cost price of two eggs! Besides, there is hardly any culinary skill involved in cooking eggs. But I’d gladly pay $16.95 for this eggs benedict: poached eggs on bread, crispy bacon, with hollandaise. This is perfection. The taste and textures are oral orgasm. The yolk is runny, soaked up by the crusty and hard pain miche bread. The hard bread provides such a wonderful textural contrast with the soft eggs. The bacon is not those crispy hard, extremely salty sort; it is a limp chewy softness with just a little saltiness. And there are–we guessed–chili oil and balsamic vinaigrette on the plate. Add up all these wonderful flavors and different consistency: the dish is perfect, the tastiness bursts in the mouth.
What is breakfast food without coffee? The coffee–the PR said–is “to die for.” It comes from New Zealand’s Allpress Expresso, made from 4 different types of coffee beans: Columbian, Kenyan, Sumatran and Guatemalan. Ranging from $3-$5 from flat white to latte to cappuccino, depending on the type of coffee you choose, I am not much of a coffee drinker so I cannot judge although I can say that the bitterness is pleasing.
An all-day joint, the bakery serves champagne ($45/half a bottle) and New Zealand wines (from $8.50/glass or $38/bottle onwards).
Sweets: Cakes, Tarts and Doughnuts
Overall, the sweet confections aren’t exceedingly sweet, which is why they are not excessive and why we all liked them.
The carrot cake ($4.95/slice, $22 for 6 inch), with dried apricot, black sesame and pumpkin seeds scattered on top, is astonishing and refreshing. Pineapple is blended somewhere within the cake. But what is astonishing is the strong and fragrant taste of spice, clove or similar to our 5-spice powder. It sounds strange but the secret ingredient makes carrot cake unique and addictive and toothsome.
Don’t be deceived by the plain appearance of this flourless orange cake. Flour is substituted by almond powder and the orange is boiled for two hours. As a result, it is very flavorful, citrusy and tangy with an aftertaste of almond. Unlike sponge cakes which may leave a dry feeling in the mouth, the orange cake is moist but grainy like the texture of couscous or semolina.
Among everything we tried, the doughnut with custard was my least favorite. Made from a dough less sweet, the sugar is lightly dusted so it falls off easily in the mouth, providing a nice, grainy texture. The custard is highly praised among the foodies in our group, smooth, not too sweet and refreshing. But the dough section, which is what doughnut is about, is disappointing because it is tough.
Recommended by 8Days and Sunday Times, the lemon tart ($4.95) is divine! The filling is sooo smooth and molten. Not overly sweet, not overly tart, a right balance. (Actually I’d like it to be slightly more tart.) The crust is also a nice balance in between super crispy and super doughy. Altogether, a most pleasing tart that will please everyone.
Atkins gives carbs a bad name but Baker & Cook puts an end to the no-carb debate: do you really care about diet if carbs are this delicious? Everything we sampled ranges from good to excellent; there is not a single bad food here. The bakery has also fully integrated into the neighborhood. The service was friendly. Just about everything is excellent. Man, I’m gushing. I better don’t oversell the bakery but in the Battle of the Bakeries, the clear winner is Baker & Cook. Hands-down, no fight.
Baker & Cook
77 Hillcrest Road
T: 6469 8834
Rating: 4.112/5 tarts
PS: We thank Sera and Baker & Cook for the invited tasting.