There's a reason taste and sight are often thrown together. Aphorisms like “You eat with your eyes” and catchprases like “eye candy” are evocative of how intertwined looks and flavour are.
At Namelaka, a little patisserie in Bangsar’s densely trafficked Telawi area, this philosophy is taken to the next level with a series of gorgeous fruit desserts that so closely resemble their namesakes, you’ll do a double (maybe even a triple) take before biting into each fruity concoction.
The brainchild of entrepreneur Low Chin Kuan, who owns an IT company, Namelaka marks his maiden foray into the F&B industry.
“A few years back, I started thinking about opening a cafe. But as there are a lot of cafes in KL, I started thinking, ‘How would I differentiate it?’ At the same time, I saw someone in France doing desserts that looked like real fruits and that sparked an idea,” he says.
Low took his first steps towards establishing his newbie business when he signed up for classes in Thailand with globally acclaimed French pastry chef Cedric Grolet, who specialises in realistic fruit desserts and in 2018, was named the world’s best pastry chef by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Low learnt how to make life-like fruits from scratch, techniques which he now applies at Namelaka.
Each exquisite fruit dessert at the eatery takes approximately two days to prepare and is meticulously hand-crafted. All the desserts also contain actual fruit elements – for example, to make one lemon dessert, a whole lemon is utilised from the skin to the segments to the juice.
“We poach the skin for eight hours to soften it and wash away the bitterness. Then we make lemon gel using agar-agar with lemon juice, to bind the segments and skin. That is the core, so after we make that, we need to freeze it for two or three hours.
“Then we need to add the cream (the cream has to sit in the chiller for 12 hours before it can be used). We wrap the core in cream and this needs to be frozen for another two or three hours. After that, we start shaping the lemon,” says Low.
The shape of each fruit is created using a standardised 5.5cm mould but each outer layer is individually hand-crafted to replicate the colour and texture of the actual fruit. Low took about a month to perfect the topography of each fruit and his team applies his same exacting standards, which is why an entire hour is required to create the skins of just 12 fruits! After this, the desserts need to be defrosted for at least one and a half hours before they can be served.
“So the thing is, we don’t make the taste of our desserts complex but the process is really complex. I want people to feel and taste the original flavours and different textures of each fruit, so that’s why we have different stages,” says Low.
One of the most interesting aspects of the fruit desserts is the use of the eatery’s eponymous namelaka cream, which incorporates white chocolate, cream and gelatine (a fish-based one). The original recipe was reputedly developed in famed French chocolate brand Valrhona’s test kitchen.
“The texture is like ice-cream – it’s very light. And this type of cream is very flexible, so we can even add a lot of fruit juice into it. The only downside is we need to prepare it one day in advance before we can use it,” says Low.
Because the desserts are so time-consuming to prepare, Low’s team only makes a maximum of 120 pieces a week, and typically sell out over the weekend.
At the end of the day though, the true test of any dessert is in the tasting, and in this regard, Namelaka proves that its desserts aren’t just all looks and no substance.
The green apple for example, (RM19) is a magnificent beauty that even Snow White would be hard-pressed to resist (were she to be tempted again). The perfect waxed outer layer gives way to an inside filled with cream, apple ganache montee, apple gel, fresh apple cubes and dill. It’s a light, less acidic version of an actual apple that also effectively refreshes the palate.
The pear (RM21) couldn’t look more like a pear if you plucked it off a tree. Taste-wise, it packs a sweet, dulcet punch with the pear ganache montee, pear gel and fresh pear cubes delivering a triple pear-infused flavour whammy.
The mandarin orange (RM21) was designed for CNY and incorporates the use of chocolate, orange ganache montee, orange gel, marmalade, and fresh orange segments laced with Timut peppercorn. Although it looks incredibly realistic, it is perhaps the least accessible of the fruits, with sharp, punchy flavours that may not appeal to everyone.
Things move on to an upward curve again with the passionfruit (RM23), which is layered with chocolate, ginger ganache montee, passionfruit gel and fresh passionfruit, and is probably the most impressive of all the fruits to look at. How on earth Low and his team managed to attain the slightly gnarly skin of the passionfruit beggars belief, but this is translated in the flavours as well, which provide explosive fruity notes accentuated by pleasant gingery undertones.
The lemon (RM23) is Namelaka’s best-seller at the moment and it’s not hard to see why. The ridged surface of the fruit is a perfect reincarnation of the real deal and the incorporation of chocolate, lemon ganache montee, lemon gel, lemon marmalade, fresh lemon segments and fresh mint leaves combine to provide a burst of sunshine-soaked flavours that settle comfortably on the palate, eventually making a mark in that happy place in your belly where good food and pleasant memories reside.
Low says the fruit desserts’ visual appeal is no accident – he fully intended for his creations to become Instagram hits. “I believe that when people come to a dessert bar, the desserts must taste good and look good. And we focus a lot on that, so I can say that all our desserts are Instagrammable. We even have customers who come here and take pictures for 30 minutes before they start eating!” he says.
Moving forward, Low is looking at creating more fruit desserts, with bananas and strawberries mooted as possibilities. But he is also attempting to branch out and expand the eatery’s repertoire with a series of nut-based desserts, some that mimic the look of actual nuts and others that use nuts in creative ways.
“I actually want to serve eight to 10 types of desserts every day and have a menu that changes frequently. I think you shouldn’t go to a dessert bar to have the same piece of cake for the next year. So our focus is on coming up with more recipes and choices,” he says.
34, Jalan Telawi 2
Tel: 03-2201 3241
Open Friday to Saturday: 11am to 10pm; Sunday to Tuesday & Thursday: 11am to 8pm
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