If you’ve grown up in Singapore, the chances are you love Lana’s chocolate cake. Over the past four or so years since I’ve lived here, I have learnt to…but when I first tasted it I was convinced it was the coup of the century and that the flourishing, forty-year-old success story that is Lana Cake Shop was based on re-selling Betty Crocker cake mix.
The story of Lana Cakes is an amazing one and Violet Kwan’s (the lady behind Lana) baking ability has spread by word of mouth alone, slowly becoming legendary until every single Singaporean has heard of her; most 30-something-year-olds ate her cakes when they were children and still love them passionately today (just ask them, it’s a secret club).
If you are angmoh and entertaining any Singaporeans, this is the cake to buy to establish some serious respect.
Springy and light, it’s actually perfect for this climate (the last thing you want to eat is dense, rich chocolate cake when it’s so hot) and the slightly salty-sweet icing off sets it beautifully: it’s both the idiomatic and actual icing on the cake and, to me, the best bit.
Violet is now in her late 70’s and business is still very much booming. Economies may rise and fall but Lana is still reassuring difficult to order from: don’t think you can just waltz in and buy one then and there. No, no. You have to call ahead. But call too far ahead and you get told you can’t possibly order anything so far in advance. Call too late and you’ve missed the boat. Get the picture?
Vicky is Aunty Violet’s niece and used to work at Lana’s. She has now set up her own baking business very near where I live: Henry Park (note: this is now en-bloc and she has moved to Bukit Timah; see her website for more details). She seems to sell cakes in the normal way and you can just walk in off the street and buy one. She also takes orders.
So this is all well and good, but which is the cake to buy? Last week we did a blind taste test at my lovely friend T’s birthday tea (T is actually the only person I know who has two birthday cakes at the same time, and I love her for it). Lana vs Vicky. Always keen to support the underdog, I was sure Vicky’s would be my favorite. (See picture above: Lana cake is on the left with special Happy Birthday icing that her husband managed to somehow wangle; the plain, darker, richer looking small cake is from Vicky.)
But for what it’s worth…I am very pleased to side with 99% of the population of Singapore: the original is still the best. Lana was the hands down winner.
By a mile.
What’s also lovely about Lana Cake Shop is that it’s still to be found in its original store in Hillcrest Village, which used to be much more run down and considerably less snazzy than it is now. Today it’s overflowing with new arrivals on the restaurant, coffee and cake scene but Lana is a landmark that resolutely remains. It’s worth supporting her for that alone.
Lana Cake Shop (no, of course she doesn’t have anything as commercial or as user friendly as a website, but click the link for a review from Time Out). An 800g cake (pictured) is her minimum order. In chocolate it costs $37.
36 Greenwood Avenue
T: (+65) 6466 5315 or 6466 8940; Lana is closed Sunday, Monday & Tuesdays (business must be good) but open on Weds 11am-6pm, Thurs & Fri 10am-6pm and Sat 10am-5pm
Vicky’s (which sensibly does have a website) makes smaller cakes than Lana does, but to compare like with like her 800g chocolate cake is $9 cheaper, at just $28.
Henry Park Apartments, 28 Holland Grove Road (now en-bloc but she will be here until the end of the year)
T: (+65) 6466 4000; Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-3pm, closed Sunday