Cover Angela Lai

Singaporean native Angela Lai, who works at Tairroir in Taipei, was recently named Asia’s Best Pastry Chef 2021 by Asia’s 50 Best. We spoke to her about the food she yearns for from Singapore, where she always goes when she’s in town, and her top picks in Taiwan

Angela Lai loved baking as a child, but when it came to career choices, she nevertheless initially chose to enter the corporate world. However, it wasn’t long before she decided to pursue pastry seriously, enrolling at Singapore’s At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy in 2008, where she completed a diploma in pastry and baking arts. From there, she worked in various establishments in Singapore, including The Fullerton Hotel and the now-defunct Guy Savoy at Marina Bay Sands. In 2015, she was given the opportunity to move to Taiwan to join Taiwanese chef Kai Ho, whom she had met at Guy Savoy, at his restaurant Taïrroir.

As a Singaporean in Taiwan, Lai discovered there was a lot to love about the country, not least that it has four distinct seasons and a wealth of fine local produce that she could incorporate into her creations. The renown of her delicately crafted and beautifully plated desserts and pastries soon spread, and in 2021 Lai was named Asia’s Best Pastry Chef by Asia’s 50 Best. While the chef clearly enjoys her work in Taiwan, where many of her desserts take inspiration from classic local snacks and traditional sweet treats, there’s plenty that she yearns for from home.

(Related: Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021: Hong Kong's The Chairman Tops The Prestigious List)

What do you miss most on the food/drink front when you are away from Singapore or haven’t been back for a while? 

Angela Lai (AL) My cousins gave me the nickname “pie tee monster”, so definitely a good kueh pie tee or popiah! Either of those is the first dish I love to eat when I return, and only when made by my mother or godmother. They are best served with my aunt’s special homemade chilli sauce. And the best part of all this is spending quality time together.

Do you have a favourite restaurant in Singapore––for fine dining/special occasions and for more casual experiences? 

AL My favourite restaurant in Singapore for fine dining would definitely be Odette. I love what chef Julien brings to the table as well as the amazing hospitality and beautiful atmosphere. For casual experiences I like Le Bistrot du Sommelier. [Chef-owner] Brandon Foo, who is a very good friend of mine, does classic French food. Their duck rillette and chicken liver pate is a must-have every time I visit. 

If you have visitors/guests with you, where do you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of Singapore?

AL Ya Kun Kaya Toast's main outlet and Toa Payoh Lorong 8 Hawker Centre. Thin crispy charcoal-grilled toast with kaya and butter is what I grew up with and always crave.

What are your favourite Singaporean heritage dishes and where are some of the places you go to find them?

AL Ye Lai Xiang Hot and Cold Cheng Tng (夜来香清汤) at Bedok Food Centre Stall 31. I grew up in the east side of Singapore and Ye Lai Xiang is one of our most frequently patronised stalls for cheng tng. Ye Lai Xiang uses 11 different ingredients; these include sweet potato, dried persimmon, mung bean and canned longan. I love biting into pieces of the dried wintermelon, persimmon, sweet potato and crushed ice. Definitely a bonus in our hot and humid weather.

(Related: Combining Our Love For Singapore’s Hawker Food With Champagne)

Where do you like to meet up with old friends for food and drinks?

AL Tian Tian Seafood Restaurant at Outram Road. It’s our favourite place for supper and a couple of beers. Tian Tian offers delicious food and fresh seafood. The best part is that they close at 3am, which allows us time to head over after work in the restaurant.

Do you have a favourite café in Singapore?
AL For coffee, I would go with Nylon Coffee Roasters. They roast their own coffee beans and are very particular with every cup of coffee, and although all they serve is coffee, it is almost a must for me to visit every time I head home.

(Related: 5 Reasons Why You Need to Try Flash Coffee)

Is there anywhere else that you never miss visiting when you are back?

AL I would say Ya Kun. It’s something I really enjoy and have done since I was little.

And when it comes to pastry or dessert – is there anywhere in Singapore that you highly rate and what do you go there for?

AL Patisserie Platine by Waku Ghin. Ishino San’s attention to detail on his sweets is what I really love about it. I love the Ghin cheesecake and sometimes he does a small dessert dégustation!

What do you always take back home with you when you leave Singapore?

AL Ya kun kaya, my aunt’s home-made chili paste, Nissin’s Tom yum and chili crab cup noodles––quite a lot of stuff!

Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home where you currently live in Taipei?

AL I go to JL Studio in Taichung for refined, creative and modern Singaporean cuisine by Jimmy Lim; Chope Chope Eatery, also by Jimmy Lim, in Taipei for more casual, comforting flavours of home; and Mu: Taipei by Tryson Quek for cocktails by Bannie Kang.