Travel

In just a few weeks, Tsim & Bibi will be celebrating a year since it opened its doors at Morning Glen Shopping Centre in Gallo Manor. And in preparation for this momentous occasion and our second year of business, we recently spent a couple of weeks in the United States of America and the United Arab Emirates, with the objective of visiting various bakeries and cake shops to sample their products, get a view of the way they conduct their businesses, search out new and interesting flavours, find creative ways of caking and, importantly, learn. About the industry, about the global cake market, about possible products and about the future of caking. So that by soaking in as much as we could through this experience, we would bring the learnings back to South Africa as we continue to drive our business forward. 

Undoubtedly, the experience was most rewarding.  Granted, we ate a lot of cake.  Like, a lot!  To the point that we didn’t want to see any more by the end of the trip.  But it was necessary.  And beneficial.  And we have returned with our eyes open wider, ears more attuned to the global cake heartbeat, and eager to pick up our tools and get to work as we improve on and expand our offering. Now, you may ask, did we really have to cross oceans and seas to gain this perspective when there are already many successful bakeries and cake shops in South Africa? And this is the purpose of today’s blog. To answer that question by bringing you into our minds a little.

So, here we go…

We started the adventure in New York City.  “The concrete jungle where dreams are made of”, as Alicia Keys aptly sings. And while we only visited 3 bakeries, our vision had evolved by the end of it. In fact, coupled with the various restaurants we dined at; we had a real sense of caking by the time we left the city. Notably, the macaroons we had at Liberty Bistro at Le District were spectacular and left us with many ideas on how to improve on our own. If you recall, we introduced our range of macaroons just two months back. But even the food trucks at Central Park had us licking our fingers clean and dreaming for more with our products.    

Our first stop was at Magnolia Bakery, a chain of bakeries founded by Bobbie Lloyd in New York City in 1996, which has since grown to a world renown brand. Its reputation precedes it and, rightly so.  We pretty much tried everything we could get into our stomachs, and then went for a second round at a different store simply because our tastebuds kept calling for more. The service was warm and inviting, the stores clean and well decorated, and the products freshly baked.  We visited the Columbus Circle and Hudson Yards stores and were impressed by the high standards at both. My personal favourite was the Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Icing, although the Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Icing, which comes highly recommended by their team, is a strong contender. Of course, we made room for their famous Banana Pudding; after all, what is Magnolia without it, and we loved it! We even kept some in the fridge at our hotel and enjoyed it over a few days.

The next stop was at Lili’s Bake Shop at Times Square, which we were pleased to find open after 8pm on a Tuesday evening.  We had a fun time choosing through the many products they have on offer, and walked away with a bag full of each of their cupcakes. Interestingly, Lili’s also has its own range of puddings, similar to those you’ll find at Magnolia, but we unfortunately didn’t try any as we already had too much! We were also pleased with their wide range of macaroons, which left us with many ideas on how to play with the flavours in our own range. Of course, we included their most popular cupcake, Strawberry, and thoroughly enjoyed it! Light, fluffy and with a dollop of sweet jam at the centre. We also enjoyed browsing through their catalogue of decorated cakes, and were impressed by the range and breath. Interestingly, a number of their designs have already been created at Tsim & Bibi, and it was satisfying to see that despite the distance and differences between us, there is still a point where we meet.

All of the above said, our favourite stop of the trip was at Dominic Ansel bakery at Soho, where the long queue just to get in had us flurrying with excitement not knowing what to expect. And boy, was it worth it! Their wide range of pastries and cakes, the various take home options, and their cake accessories, were all a wow! And so beautifully decorated and presented. The treat of the day was the Cookie Shot. Slightly warm and ever so creamy and delicious. We took a well-deserved moment to toast to a wonderful time caking-in-New York, and left with a bag of cronuts, one of each of their macaroons and a few slices of cake, all of which flew onward with us to our next stop – Dubai! Although, that was perhaps the wrong call because caking-in-Dubai took things to a whole other level!

We kicked off with a stop at Home Bakery at Al Barsha. A fitting start in a land that is filled with so many options, each of the highest quality, thus making it difficult to choose. As we stepped into the store, we were immediately impressed by the clean and chic design, and the beautiful interior. Who could have ever imagined such a glory in the desert? I mean, it was honestly a good 37 degrees outside, and the heart of summer has not even hit! That said, our first impression was matched by the products, all of which were exquisitely packaged. By its name, and similar to our own story, Home Bakery began at home and expanded to what is now a chain of stores that can be found across the UAE. We enjoyed a cup of coffee paired with their delicious Dark Chocolate Infused Banana Bread; what a yum! And later fought over a piece of their Hazelnut Chocolate Cake decorated with what looks like Ferrero Rocher, but really is their own creation.

The next caking was in Abu Dhabi, where we visited La Brioche at Marina Mall.  Interestingly, you cannot go anywhere in Abu Dhabi without a negative PCR test that is at most 14 days valid, and we were impressed that this was literally checked at every entrance. Even at this large mall with several doors! We were impressed by their vast array of decorated cakes, similar to many of the speciality cakes you will find at Tsim & Bibi. And like us, they cater for any occasion – weddings, birthdays and really whatever your heart desires. In addition to their bakery, La Brioche has a full-blown café where meals are also served. If only we had more time to sit down and have a bite, we could have dropped a review on that. Especially since it’s a direction we see Tsim & Bibi taking in the future. Nevertheless, their cakes were tasty.

Now, what really surprised us was PDL in Dubai. It’s not a traditional bakery, in fact – it’s a café, but its baked products are certainly to that standard and, as such, we could not leave the city without sampling what they have on offer. We were completely blown away by their Coconut Cake. It really is nothing like we’ve ever tasted before. Full of flavour, incredibly soft, entirely covered in fresh coconut flakes and infused with the most divine coconut syrup. It was incredible! Finger licking good! And paired with their coffee, it was exactly what we needed after a busy morning. We also tried their Pistachio Cake, and it was nothing short of delicious. Personally, I find that pistachio is a difficult flavour to bring out. In fact, I would call it ‘flavourless’ despite the distinct taste that we know it to have. I’m digressing a little, but even in the case of our own Pistachio Macaroons, which we believe do in fact bring out that flavour, it took a number of tries before we got it right. And even then, it was in a play with other flavours that we were able to enhance the ‘pistachio-ness’ of it while still ensuring that the pistachio remained the star of the show. Not an easy task! PDL’s Pistachio Cake is beautifully decorated with a mix of thin layers of cake and icing and drizzled with crumbs of pistachio. The bright pink colour of the icing is just a wow! But while we loved it, I repeat, the Coconut Cake stole the show!

Now, we all know how time sometimes gets ahead of us, and this was certainly the case on this trip. There just wasn’t enough time to do it all. In fact, while we would have loved to visit the Cheesecake Factory in New York city; after all, the USA is home to it, we didn’t get the opportunity. So, we jumped at it in Dubai with a stop at the store in the Mall of Emirates, simply because our adventure would not have been complete without it. And let’s face it, the store looked exactly as it does in the USA and, arguably, possibly even better given the glam with which Dubai executes everything! Interestingly, on our walk to the Cheesecake Factory, we passed by a few ice-cream cake stores and macaroon cake stores, but we had to resist the urge to venture out and stick to purpose. We loved sampling their wide range of Cheesecakes and analysing their beautiful designs. While Tsim & Bibi only has one Cheesecake at the moment, or rather, one absolutely incredible, decadent, and delicious Cheesecake, which actually takes a labour of love to make over 24 hours, we intend to grow this offering with time. So both our minds and stomachs were full by the time we left.

Here’s the thing about travel. Which is the purpose of this blog. The Bible tells us that without a vision, people perish. Because there is something so life-giving in seeing. In fact, seeing informs what we define in living. When one captures a specific place or state in one’s heart, writes it down, and then proceeds to run to fulfil it, nothing can stop that man. As the Bible also puts it, it’s not just about what you see, but how far. The story of Abraham is a fitting example. The Bible tells us of a moment in time when God approached him and promised to give him whatever he set his eyes upon. Now, in that particular moment, they were standing on a mountain from which many physical lands were visible to them. But while Abraham could see these lands, his eyes looked deeper. Instead of focusing on the physical terrains before him, and claiming those for himself, Abraham envisioned the whole world in that moment, in his spirit. He looked beyond the mountains and the valleys and the plains and skies and saw that which was not visible to the physical eye. The whole world, and because he captured it in his heart, it was given to him the same hour!

Sometimes, you need to get out of your box to do this. To step into unfamiliar territories and places in order to fully appreciate what you may even possibly already have right where you are, but also to expand and grow that vision. I tell you, something bigger and greater is unlocked when you do this. While there is a lot to see and be inspired and learn from in South Africa, sometimes you need to travel out of South Africa to gain a broader vision. And, quite frankly, there are some things you may never see except you do this! And so, as we continue to build on and develop Tsim & Bibi’s story, it was important for us to do exactly that. To step out, to see, to envision, to define, to redefine, and to dream.

To end caking-in-Dubai, we dined at Tashas at Al Barsha. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering the point of the mention since Tashas is not a bakery or traditional cake shop. And I’ll explain. We could not leave Dubai without recognising and paying tribute to the South African vision that is Tashas and is now becoming a world known brand. I mean, I already spend a lot of time at her restaurants in South Africa and particularly love Le Parc by Tashas at Hyde Park Mall. As expected, the restaurant was both beautifully decorated and immaculately clean, the food incredible and the cakes delicious. A fitting stop to mull over Tasha’s journey in awe. And as we did that, we became even more excited about our own journey as Tsim & Bibi. After all, she started right here in South Africa, like we have. And she is now taking her story to the rest of the world. Like we will. Just the inspiration we needed to leave Dubai pumped up. Ready to travel back to South Africa, to get back to the store, to incorporate our learnings in our business, to do more, to dream bigger, to work harder, and to take Tsim & Bibi to the whole world; one-cake-at-a-time!

Thank you for coming along with us!

Yours in baking,

Chi   

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