When I was a kid, my family headed to Taipei for at least a month every summer. While there are countless things I love about Taipei (I may be biased, being half-Taiwanese and all, but it is one of my absolute favourite cities in the world), one of my favourite activities on those summer trips was visiting the bakery down the road from our house.
A Taiwanese bakery isn’t like a regular, Westernised bakery – in fact, most East Asian bakeries aren’t (at least in my experience), unless they specifically make the effort to be a Western-style bakery. No, these are bright, light places filled with baked goods that are just somehow different. Aside from the style of baked goods, even the way you serve yourself is different: here, you’d pick up a parchment paper-lined tray from a stack near the door when you walk in, grab a pair of tongs and help yourself as you walk around the heaps of offerings around the store, sort of like a buffet. I usually walk out with a tray piled high. It would be many years until I made it to Japan myself, but my mum explained to me at the time that the Taiwanese bakeries I so loved were very Japanese in style. She had spent many years in Japan when she was young, and it’s thanks to my mum’s influence that I grew up with a love for all things Japanese.
While nothing can beat the joy of a freshly-baked French croissant (if it’s in Paris, even better) – you know, the kind that’s buttery, flakey and perfectly puffy, and that makes that uber-satisfying crunching sound when you press it and it gently sinks down – I find Japanese-style baked goods equally as intoxicating. Take the doughnuts, for example – Japanese doughnuts just seem exceptionally soft in comparison to regular ones, springing back with a bounce each time you take a bite. The sugar on them is made of tiny, melt-in-your-mouth granules full of a light sweetness that doesn’t feel sickly or over the top, while the ones with chocolate often have it woven into the baked good themselves, delicate strands that are not overly sweet but just chocolatey enough. Suffice it to say, I love them, and this is the kind of treat I really don’t mind having a fat day for. The bonus here (or maybe the dangerous part, as I don’t feel as guilty afterwards!) is that they don’t leave me feeling as heavy as Westernised baked goods do.
So you can imagine my sheer, unbridled excitement when my mum told me there was a new Japanese bakery in Dubai: Yamanote Atelier. She had bought me one of their gorgeous Totoro-shaped chocolate buns. Shaped like the beloved Japanese anime cartoon character, My Neighbour Totoro, the bun is stuffed with a light chocolate custard cream and is almost too cute to eat. Almost.
I have been waiting for years for there to be a place like this in Dubai. Every time I came back from a trip to Taipei (even into my adult years!) I’d buy a few extra sponge cakes, tuck them into my carry-on and hope they wouldn’t get confiscated, and savour every last bite when I got home since I knew it would be a long time before I had another one. And now there’s a place I can get similar goodies here! Sadly, there aren’t any sponge cakes (at least there weren’t when I was there) but they have the adorable aforementioned Totoro buns, along with Hello Kitty-shaped buns, bear-shaped buns, croissants of all shapes, sizes and flavours, pain au chocolat, milk bread, melon buns, and baked goods with the weird, wacky twists you’d only find at a Japanese bakery: Corn bread with actual corn kernels on top, curry doughnuts and turkey sausage rolls, for instance. Some of these things are an acquired taste, but in most cases I’d suggest just trying it anyway because while it may look unusual to those unfamiliar with it, you may be surprised at how tasty it is. You can eat in the cafe (they serve hot food too, like yakisoba buns, sandwiches and beef and potato croquette buns, along with a range of drinks) or opt for take-out from the bakery section. My only qualm is that I’m not a big fan of things stuffed with custard cream and there’s a lot of them on offer here – I like a little of it once in a while but given the choice I’d always rather have the non-stuffed baked good. I also wish some of the items weren’t deep fried (I might have been more inclined to try a curry doughnut just for curiosity’s sake otherwise, but I think the combination of deep frying plus curry plus carby doughnut might put me into a severe food coma that I can’t handle!). Still, this bakery is very new and I hope that over time they will eventually add my beloved sponge cake, a lighter fluffier version of an Angel’s Food Cake, to the offerings.
The cafe itself is adorable. It’s not very big, but it’s still quite spacious, and like its foodie offerings the decor is sweet, light and bright. Super-friendly staff are always ready to help with a smile, and there are also a few take-home items on offer, like rare honeys and teas, and special tea-making equipment. I had actually unknowingly walked past it countless times on my explorations of Wasl Square, and never went in until recently – and now, I’m kicking myself for not having gone in earlier. It’s been open for about a month now, and I think Yamanote Atelier has a bright future ahead of it. As for me, I see many Japanese twisted sugar doughnuts in my future…