A taste for Japanese flair

When customers do not have time to slowly sample the offerings, the owners of Kki Sweets at the School of the Arts (Sota) ask them to come back another day - even at the risk of losing business.

"We want people to come in and slow down. Cake is something you are meant to savour. It is not fast food," said Ms Delphine Liau, 39.

The store's design forces visitors to decelerate. Local design studio Produce fashioned the shared storefront around an alleyway - one turn-off leads to design retail store The Little Drom Store and the other to Kki's Japan-inspired dessert cafe, which also sells Kki Home homeware products.

At Kki Sweets, maple-veneered plywood and pine planes serve as shelves, seats and trellises. They provide a deliberate contrast to the darker interior of the atrium at Sota and also create internal layers within the space.

Last year, the design of the 1,700 sq ft store won an award in the retail category at the INSIDE World Festival of Interiors, which was held in Singapore alongside the World Architecture Festival.

"The design reflects the lifestyle we are trying to promote. We want it to be comfortable, warm and cosy - a place where you spend time and take your time," said Ms Liau.

She and her husband, self-trained chef Kenneth Seah, 43, share a love of food. They met in 2003 while working in a cafe, and opted to have a pastry-inspired honeymoon in Japan, lapping up delicate creations by the likes of top patissier Hidemi Sugino.

Returning home to what they felt was a desert in terms of good desserts, they decided to create their own ideal cafe. In 2009, they opened an outlet in Ann Siang Hill, serving cookies and speciality mousse cakes such as the Kinabaru (new mountain in Malay), a coconut sensation with a passionfruit centre.

Rising rentals forced them to move at the end of 2013 but, thanks to a DesignSingapore Council Design Innovation Assistance grant, they cranked up their ovens again in September 2014, this time at Sota, where they have a larger space.

Once a year, they close their cafe for a week to return to Japan for more inspiration - and more cake.

"When the Japanese sell something they didn't create, like French pastries, they respect the craftsmanship but infuse it with their produce and make it their own," said Ms Liau. "We are as intrigued by their mindset as their cakes. We have learnt so much from them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'A taste for Japanese flair'. Print Edition | Subscribe