Le Castella, the Taiwanese brand famed for its ethereally light Japanese-style sponge cakes, created quite a stir on social media when its franchise outlet first landed in Korea. The lines for the cakes there are known to be pretty long. And it was equally crowded at its Singapore branch, which opened its doors on May 10 at Tampines One mall. The wait for a piece of cake here took up to an eye-watering 90 minutes (apparently three hours days later, according to some bloggers). Partly because kitchen operations aren't very smooth yet — the ovens malfunctioned just days before opening day, and the cakes were a bit burned (see video above) during our preview tasting. Still, when done right, Le Castella's cakes are supposed to boast an oh-so-sexy wobble. The hefty 7cm-tall edible sponges, each roughly 23cm by 16cm large, are whipped up with almost 60 eggs and boast a distinct quiver that’s the stuff of food porn dreams.
With one store in Taiwan and Korea each, Le Castella’s elfin lady boss, Lele, who came up with the recipe, partnered Singaporeans Ahmad Adam, 25, and Rayner Ling, 24, to bring the brand over here for a cool $300,000. Rayner, by the way, happens to be one of the original owners of popular yoghurt chain, Ilao Ilao, while Adam’s family is in the palm oil business.
Using specially imported ingredients from Taiwan, the cakes are freshly baked in six giant ovens onsite daily and served steaming hot. Part of its allure is in the showmanship. The pillow-sized cakes, which take an hour to bake each, are wheeled out of the kitchen every 15 minutes, flipped, stamped with the brand’s logo and cut up into blocks using a ruler (though this ruler wasn't ready during our visit). Cakes really don’t get any fresher than this. There are only three flavours available here: Original, Cheese and Chocolate, and the latter will be launched later. A Singapore-tinged pandan or kaya option may be introduced in future. The cakes contain no preservatives and are best eaten piping hot, especially the cheese-filled one.
The look: Like the cakes, the decor for the takeaway kiosk here accented with floor-to-ceiling faux wood, is all about pared-down simplicity. Sadly, unlike its overseas branches, there is no open kitchen here to watch the large cakes being made (the baking process is hidden from view). Instead, you can only witness the measuring, stamping and slicing of the puffy baked blocks.
Le Castella Cheese, $11.90
After numerous failed attempts owing to equipment malfunction, we finally managed to visit the store exactly one day before its official opening. Even then, there were issues with the quality of the cakes. The batch we got ended up pretty badly singed around the edges and bottom. It was also not as puffy, wobbly or oozy as seen in the videos of the ones from Korea and Taiwan. It's not bad flavour-wise — a bit like a richer, eggier ji dan gao (traditional Chinese steamed cake). This is crowned with unfortunately burnt Parmesan cheese. Thankfully, the sponge itself is still fairly billowy and fluffy. And the modest layers of cheddar crammed within add a pleasant sharpness and complexity, even if it isn't gooey enough in our slightly over-baked slice.
Le Castella Original, $9.90
This turned out a bit better than its over-baked cheesy counterpart, even though it still falls short in terms of its promised height and wobble. That being said, the plain sponge here is wonderfully light and delicately perfumed with the fragrance of all those eggs.
Bottom line: Beneath all that hype is a simple and fairly tasty cake that we wouldn't mind eating it were served to us. And its quality should improve after the kitchen irons out the kinks. But would we endure a ridiculously long wait for a slice? Probably not.
#B1-32, 10 Tampines Central 1, S529536. Tel: 6636-8655. Open daily 10am – 10pm. Last orders 30 mins before closing. www.facebook.com/LeCastellaSG/