This the first of its kind and maybe not just for Vancouver. Who doesn’t like a good creme burlee? Crème brûlée is also known as burnt cream, crema catalana, or Trinity cream. It is a dessert consisting of a rich custard base topped with a contrasting layer of hard caramel. It is normally served at room temperature. All according to Wikipedia.
Like most desserts this classic one can be revamped and redone by adding in a new flavour component to its traditional base. This cafe has been on both MissVancouverPiggy and my list, so when we were yet again unable to find a dessert destination in our immediate vicinity, or decide on what we both wanted; we drove downtown to see what all the buzz was about.
I am surprised by its location. In business, as is the case with real estate; it is all about location, location, location. You build the right shoppe in the right neighbourhood and they will come. Located in the cusp between Chinatown and downtown this was an anomie. Customers were coming, but from what I saw today they were not from the immediate area. This was a destination. Such a dessert shoppe with its Asian friendly variations on the French custard would be more popular in Richmond. Richmond, where matcha, waffles, and pretty plates are always in high demand. All his clients today were young Asian girls. But as I said this was an exception, people were coming in for what he was selling. But I couldn’t help wonder how much better this would fair on Robson street, commercial drive, or Main Street.
The area is slowly being revitalized with a very off the beaten path, Main Street feel. Having considered the above, the owner was most definitely considering his surrounding demographic. On top of his exotic Asian flavours and fruit like black sesame, coconut, pandan, and durian; he had more familiar flavours like Ferrero Rocher and maple walnut. Trendier flavours included spiced pumpkin pie for the season, honey lavender, lemon basil, Bailey’s, and bourbon butterscotch. He also used tastes made most popular in many of the local gourmet ice creams shoppes: salted caramel, chai tea, and earl grey tea. He was covering all the bases. Though I am surprised he also didn’t offer just the regular creme burlee.
The cafe was a small one room affair. Given the lack of work space and the amount needed, the number of chairs offered suffered. A bench with high top chairs faced the window, and another row of counters and chairs stood outside. As a result the need to offer washrooms was null. Shame as I had to go. I ended up walking half a block with the need, to buy a coffee at a neighbouring cafe before being able to do so, just to return here minutes later.
The theme of the place was very modern, very minimalistic. Slow versions of newer pop songs played overhead, tranquil. A painting of a bicycle and inspirational words on a canvas covered excess grey wall easily. The menu was colourfully written on a black board by the door. Creme burlee, waffles, coffees and tea. The type of waffles was limited to the original liege variety today. Though they have been known to do matcha as well. With two different kinds of toppings and three different types of ice cream, you mix and match to your preference. The full list of creme burlees was spelled out on glass by the register. It was a tad hard to read. The cremes of the day: Bailey, Madagascar vanilla bean, cream of earl grey, salted caramel, black sesame, pandan coconut, and durian. On regular rotation: spiced pumpkin pie, matcha green tea, Ferrero Rocher, honey lavender, lemon basil, maple topped with walnuts, bourbon butterscotch, and chai tea. The vegan option was the black sesame coconut. And their trial special was the “Guinness espresso”, created for the “hawkers” food festival. A fun twist was the ability to “S’more it”. For 50 cents more you had the ability to add graham cracker and marshmallow to the top of any creme burlee. Though realistically the distinct flavour of marshmallow only works with select flavours. Marshmallow and fruit?
I wanted to try it all, so many flavours and so many possible combinations. Shame the ability to sample wasn’t available. Can you imagine the fun? I went for the Southeast Asian flavours I always gravitate towards because of nostalgia, and their limited availability in mainstream cuisine. And when trying to order more, the owner was kind enough to voice his reservations, suggesting that I stick to just two portion. It was nice to see he cared and it wasn’t just about the sale. If eating in the burlees are presented in a ramekin, if looking to take out they are available to go in tins of foil. Your flavours are fetched from the fridge, then burleed with sugar and blow torch right before your eyes. For those like MissVancouverPiggy, if you like stamp cards they have you covered. Offering a free item after several visits is a good way to encourage repeat business, the multitude of flavours to try helps in this too.
Water and utensils are all a help yourself affair. As well as clearing your space after you are done. The owner was the only one working today and he never once stepped out from behind the safety of his counter. I was highly impressed by the mint infused jug of water. Mint is such a great addition to desserts and a hint of it in the water is a nice way to enjoy the flavour.
I haven’t had durian or durian anything in a long while so was excited for this one. It did not disappoint. The durian fruit’s flavour transitioned well in this. The creme burlee had the same creaminess that you would get when eating a piece of the ripened fruit itself.
“Pandan coconut”. When asked the owner described pandan as “the Asian vanilla bean”, a light and versatile ingredient that flavours desserts well. It was as creamy and fluffy here as in the version above. The combination of coconut and pandan is a complimentary one.
“Liege waffle with earl grey ice cream”. The waffle was pressed fresh to order, a ball of dough sandwiched between the cast iron sheets of a waffle maker. Though even with such great promise this was still one of the worse waffles I have ever had. How could something made to order come out like this? Whereas other waffle places make their waffles ahead of time and let them stand for longer periods end up turning out so much better. I prefer the store bought frozen ones over this. It was very dense and far too dry. The ends were not crisp and the middle was not chewy. More doughy and salty than I have ever had. Where were the sugar crystals? It truly needed the flavour of something else to give it character and depth. The spiced plum compote or the Nutella fudge drizzle. The ice cream helped, but I found its flavour uncomplimentary with the salted waffle. The earl grey ice cream has a very floral flavour, best enjoyed with tea or on its own. The vanilla bean would have been ideal given adding more salt from the salted caramel ice cream would have been overkill. Only after we started eating did we notice the waffle special in tiny print. It was two scoops of salted caramel ice cream with a waffle for slightly more than what we paid for our waffle and one scoop. The owner didn’t mention it, it would have been nice to have it recommend, we most definitely would have liked to take advance of such an offer.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
This is the kind of place you want to sit and enjoy your dessert at. Though with lack of seating and no washrooms the cafe does not speak to that. More of a late afternoon snack than an after dinner dessert place. Maybe in the future, if they expand this could be the newest late night dessert place. If you are a creme burlee fan this is worth trying. Though not so much if you are a creme burlee purist. There are over 15 flavours to choose from, be prepared to face a hard decision. My strategy was to go for the ones no other places would offer: Southeast Asian ingredients in a French origin dessert. Don’t deny your cravings.