KUALA LUMPUR, May 17 — If you love ice cream, you have to check out Tanuki by Crustz (Tanuki). Dreamt up by Xiao-Ly Koh, 29, this place reinvents ice cream into dainty creations.
There are also playful drinks paired with ice cream and topped with adorable characters fashioned from meringue. Perfect for Instagram but most importantly, they taste great!
Dessert aficionados will already be familiar with Koh’s work. She’s the creative force behind Xiao by Crustz (Xiao) located in Petaling Jaya. Opened for four years, it's where you get French pastries, crafted with artistic passion.
Started at the beginning of this year, Tanuki is named after a playful racoon character who loves ice cream, of course. Koh and her sister are fans of Japanese culture, especially the Japanese animation film-makers Studio Ghibli. Don't be surprised if well-loved characters like Totoro pop up in her sweet creations.
When it came to expanding her business, Koh contemplated between opening a chocolate or ice cream place. She finally chose ice cream. "We feel it’s the next trend," she said.
Compared to Xiao which is located at the Happy Mansion flats in Section 17, Petaling Jaya, Tanuki is spacious.
Housed in a double-storey shop hidden in the quiet suburbs of Taman Bukit Indah, the cafe is located downstairs while upstairs can be rented out as an event space.
The decision to go for a larger space stemmed from Koh's experience: Creating a place to escape reality.
For a year, they ran a kiosk in downtown KL right next to a train station, offering a takeaway concept for their cakes.
It was a more cost effective way of spreading the brand. However, people preferred a spot to dine in.
"We realised people just want to escape the working environment. If you buy a cake back, everyone is sitting staring at you eating it."
Moreover, for Koh, she believes ice cream caters to a different crowd. "I view ice cream as more for family and kids hence the space is bigger to attract families."
Many are surprised they opened in this quiet neighbourhood in the vicinity of Old Klang Road. Koh explained, they wanted to target the Sri Petaling crowd since it is nearby.
"People like this kind of idea, they feel like there’s an element of surprise," she said. Koh also didn't want to open too near Xiao.
She explained, "In terms of desserts, it is kind of a niche market so I didn’t want to compete with my own place."
Behind each creation here, there's a lot of work. As ice cream cakes like these are relatively new, Koh specially flew to Bangkok to attend a course given by a chef who was one of the first few to open a similar type of place in Paris.
There's a lot of challenges in using ice cream in these scaled down cakes. "You can't use certain creams or gelatine for these desserts," explained Koh.
It is a balancing act to ensure the dessert has the right texture. It needs to be hard enough to keep its shape, yet soft enough for diners to cut and enjoy.
"When it is frozen, it shouldn't be rock hard," explained Koh. Their ice cream also has less stabliser than that of other places. Some desserts also use alcohol. Koh explained, "We add a bit of alcohol to control the texture."
Current crowd favourites include their Mango Cheesecake and Tri-Scoop. The cheery yellow Mango Cheesecake is a combination of cream cheese and mango ice cream, sandwiched with white chocolate. Dig in for a slightly tangy yet refreshing taste.
Their Tri-Scoop is essentially an ice cream sandwich that uses thin waffle biscuits. You get to enjoy three ice cream flavours: raspberry sorbet, raspberry yoghurt and mango ice cream.
If you love chocolate, there are two choices. The Chocolate Rose combines chocolate with coffee flavours. It's given a different texture with the use of coffee meringue and a chocolate biscuit base.
There's also the Chocolate Hazelnut, a nutty rendition using hazelnuts and almonds.
There's also a need to constantly innovate. At Xiao, she changes the menu every three to four months.
What she noticed is sales takes a dip if the menu is stagnant. Their regulars know the drill. When something new pops up, they return to try it out, together with their favourites. Sometimes it's just a few items. One time, Koh actually culled the whole menu!
The change also keeps Koh's staff on their toes. "I think it is important as it keeps my staff motivated. With a more challenging menu, they also get to learn more skills."
Similarly, Tanuki's menu will also go through a revamp. Currently R&D is being conducted for new items to expand their range. This include the use of macarons to create ice cream sandwiches.
In the works, there's a collaboration with the winners of this year's coveted World Pastry Cup: Tan Wei Loon, Otto Tay and Loi Ming Ai.
Many have clamoured to taste the creations that won them the award. You will have a chance soon as each chef will showcase their creation at Xiao and Tanuki.
Koh is good friends with the trio, a relationship built from her days at the Academy of Pastry Arts Malaysia where she trained.
Looking back, Koh's venture into the F&B industry wasn't a walk in the park. Initially, her parents objected to her pursuing her hobby for baking cakes.
With her sister and cousin's support, her parents agreed to let her try out working in the industry. Her first job was at the bread section of RT Pastry House, where she survived the super early hours.
When the central kitchen shifted to Puchong, she left the place. Next, she worked at Delectable by Su, where they made customised cakes. After working for nine months, Koh decided to pursue formal studies at the academy.
When she graduated, she decided to start a home-based business supplying customised cakes for birthday parties. She also did dessert tables for her clients, filling them with tartlets and scones.
Deep down, she still wanted to pursue French pastries, her first love. However, it was obvious that people weren't receptive.
Koh related how once she tried to sell mousse cakes online but it didn't take off since people wanted to test its taste first before committing.
After she built up her client base for two years, she had the confidence to open Xiao in 2016.
As a young entrepreneur, Koh practises a give back philosophy to ensure she keeps her all-female kitchen staff happy. "At the end of the day it is a business but there's a lot of ways to make money," she said.
During Chinese New Year, they took an extended two-week break. This allowed her staff to return to their hometown in East Malaysia.
They also went on a company-sponsored trip overseas, allowing them an opportunity to explore a new world.
Creativity is also encouraged. As all her staff are former Academy students, they return there every year to refresh their skills.
Tanuki by Crustz is located at 26, Jalan Selera 1, Taman Bukit Indah, KL. It's open from 1pm to 10pm (Tuesday to Friday), 12pm to 10pm (Saturday) and 12pm to 6pm (Sunday). https://www.facebook.com/tanukibycrustz/ For menu details, visit https://www.xiaobycrustz.com/icecreamcakes