Richmond might be world famous for having some of the best Chinese restaurants in North America. But unknown to many, it is also home to some of the most ethereal French pastry in Metro Vancouver. These three small patisseries are reinterpreting the classics with meticulous attention to detail and Asian twists.
5951 Minoru Blvd., Richmond, B.C., 604-270-2919, IG @loperapatisserie
Open Wednesday to Monday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Janice Marta is a self-taught pâtissière. Her obsession with making the perfect croissant – one as crisp, flaky and cleanly formed as she had enjoyed in Paris, but slightly less greasy to suit her Cantonese palate – began 10 years ago, when she was finishing her undergraduate-science degree at the University of British Columbia. To take her mind off her studies, she spent late nights in her tiny home kitchen, folding cold dough and butter in hundreds of different ratios until she found the precise formula.
Word-of-mouth spread among friends and family and soon she was knocking out 300 croissants a day. Before long, she convinced her uncle to let her rent his small commercial storefront on an industrial side street (previously a massage parlour). She gutted the space and turned it into a baroque tearoom, ornately clad in red brocade and gilt mirrors.
L’Opera Patisserie has perhaps become best known for its extravagant afternoon tea, which must be reserved 24 hours in advance. At $58 a person, it is more expensive than most. But it is also more lavish, served with shrimp bisque, crab vol-au-vent, abalone salad and herbed rack of lamb, in addition to a large array of sweets.
But this quaint little pastry house will likely become famous (locally, at least) for its salted duck-egg-yolk croissant. Launched a few weeks ago, along with a “dirty” matcha and a savoury masago, this single-baked croissant is luxurious (the silver dough is coloured with activated charcoal powder and dusted with edible gold glitter), glossy (each molten filling takes two whole salted egg yolks blitzed with condensed milk) and delicious (every bite a delightful contrast of crunchy flakes against the slightly grainy, bright-yellow custard oozing out the pull-apart seams).
This is a salted egg-yolk croissant that actually tastes like salted egg yolk. And while it might be inspired by the now-standard and comparatively squishy steamed molten egg-yolk bun (often black and dusted in gold) available at most dim sum restaurants, the crispness of the croissant in all its delicately laminated layers transcends Ms. Marta’s version into another realm.
Her pastry case isn’t flawless. The flavours of her creams swing between shockingly bold and underwhelming subtle. Her macarons have small feet (low rise on the meringue) and narrow waists (not filled to the edges).
The puff pastry in her mille-feuille is intentionally thick, dense and chewy, but on a recent visit, it was also burnt on the bottom – an error in execution, not preference of palate.
The service is a bit confusing. Do you order at the counter or the table? It’s not entirely clear. And it is sometimes lax. Tea was served with a spilled pool of liquid under the cup and no napkin to mop it up.
But then you take a bite of canelés de Bordeaux, so disarmingly modest in appearance yet exceedingly difficult to master. Ms. Marta uses proper copper moulds to make her small fluted cakes. The outer shell is crunchy and crisp, yielding to a soft custard centre. There are no gaping holes, no burnt crevices, no muffin tops ballooning over the edges. It’s all gobbled down before you know it, leaving behind a trail of caramelized crumbs and a puff of utter bliss.
Little Fox Bakehouse
1180-8181 Cambie Rd., Richmond, B.C., 604-231-8131, littlefoxbakehouse.com
Open Monday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
You’d expect nothing less than technical perfection from an electrical engineer who gave up a successful career to pursue his passion for pastry. Eric Ho (former owner of Bakery Sate on Commercial Drive) bakes faultless plain croissants with rich, buttery flavour, sharp cuts, clean folds, lightly caramelized outer rings and an airy honeycombed interior. His doubled-baked salted egg-yolk croissants with thick, custardy filling are a little dry, yet hugely popular. But his crackled cream puffs filled with Vitasoy-flavoured diplomat cream have been known to make people who grew up on that beverage yelp with joy.
110-2811 No. 3 Rd., Richmond, B.C., 236-858-5545, IG @dailydeliciousbakery
Open Tuesday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
This tiny new takeout shop in an industrial neighbourhood underneath Jade Restaurant is full of tasty surprises. Do not ignore the sea-salt buns, even though they look like Pillsbury crescents from a can. The dense milk-bread dough is rolled around a butter stick that melts through the bottom and cooks until golden. Served warm, the textural contrast of crispy base, soft belly and crunchy fleur de sel sprinkled over top is unexpectedly sensational. The salted egg-yolk croissant is extremely subtle (the crumbly filling actually tastes like almond paste). But the buttery dough is also shaped into intriguing loaves streaked with black tea and red bean. The recipes belong to a pastry chef named Junling Weng, who trained in Tokyo and has five additional bakeries in China. But its charm belongs to Frances, the exuberant general manager who won’t let you walk out without “just one more bite” of salted cream chocolate cake.