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Sweet Spots We Love: Birds of Paradise
17 August 2021

The first of a three-part series dedicated to some of our homegrown makers who have near perfected their sweet craft.

The streets of Katong are cacophonous; almost relentless. An odd familiarity of uniform shophouses amidst the protruding imagery of vertical name boards. Matched perfectly with an achingly-scorching sensation that washes over all.

And so — we seek a temporal escape. On the nether side of an overpass. In the gelato boutique of Birds of Paradise.

Much like the textural flavours of its surrounding residence, the innards of the homegrown boutique share a harmoniously synchronized narrative. Whilst a colour-speckled wall might visually greet you, it is not before an irresistible aroma takes over your olfactory senses: as you focus your attention on what lies behind the counter.

The botanical gelato of Birds of Paradise now situates itself like the standard repertoire of how desserts should play out in one’s mouth. Yet take a few steps back and one might bear witness: to the giddy experimentation, the long, protracted hours, and the mouth-watering dedication that goes behind it all.

We’re joined in conversation with Edwin Lim: founder and maker of the wondrous gelato space in question.

Edwin is wearing our TIMOTEE Top.

There's something about Birds of Paradise flavours that is so sublime and yet so simple. Tell us more about how your flavours are brought to life.

We’re a botanical gelato boutique so our flavours are derived from fruits, flowers, herbs and spices, in particular those from Southeast Asia and the Region. We get inspiration for our flavours from everywhere: from literature, from architecture and even from our travels (when we could!).

Using literature as an example, it could be as direct as researching from a culinary book, or it could be a more abstract source, such as reading Somerset Maugham’s tropical tales and being inspired by the setting of tropical plantations.

We eschew trends, and rather lean on our creative process, which is an everyday cycle of observation, inspiration, distillation and execution.

This move not to seek out trendy ingredients can be seen in your stores too. Could you share with us what your ethos is when it comes to design?

Our boutiques carry a minimalist aesthetic, and yet at the same time we are always pushing boundaries to create concepts that have not been seen before. We strongly believe that form follows function, and well-defined function frees up form.

We eschew trends,
and rather lean on
our creative process,
which is an everyday cycle of
observation, inspiration, distillation
and execution.

Let’s talk more about gelato — it’s been five years! Is there a flavour you’re particularly fond of?

I like challenges that are hard-won, so I would go with our Pandan Gelato! First, it was difficult to create, then it became a challenge to get customers to accept it. When we first started, we received many comments like, ‘This doesn’t really taste like Pandan’, which came as a surprise to us because the only ingredient flavouring the gelato was nothing else but pandan leaves.

Over time, we began to hypothesise that probably 95% of the pandan confectionery that we had all grown up with — and therefore came to regard as “real pandan” — were flavoured, or at the very least enhanced, with pandan flavouring or extracts. Obviously these flavourings are engineered to maximise the broad-based palatability of “pandan” while downplaying the more nuanced characteristics.

Nevertheless, we decided to keep true to our philosophy of using only real, natural ingredients, and to use this as an opportunity to educate our customers what real pandan tastes like — grassy, musky, and with a bitter-sweet fragrance.

Were there any flavours you tried to experiment with that didn’t see the light of day? Maybe you could share with us a personal anecdote of a quirky experiment when the flavour just couldn’t make the cut?

Funnily enough, that would be our coconut sorbet. It’s always been our goal to make the best coconut sorbet in the region, which is a big ask because almost every person has their gold-standard memory of this flavour. We started experimenting with this flavour 3 years ago, and we did almost 20 iterations without hitting the required standard. So we canned it.

Until this year.

We collaborated with The Coconut Club to use their cold-pressed coconut milk, combined it with the know-how that we had developed over the intervening years...and we finally got it right. The overwhelming love that our coconut sorbet received since we launched has vindicated the lost years and all the effort that has gone into bringing it to life.

Compared to when you first started, there are now so many other Gelato/ Ice Cream cafes and brands. Has it been difficult to innovate so as to set Birds Of Paradise apart from the rest?

Our followers know and value us for our creativity. When we started in Katong in 2016, we created the concept of a botanical gelato boutique, introducing our signature range of flavours and inimitable concept. Our second outlet at Jewel Changi Airport, in collaboration with In Good Company, broke new ground in terms of showcasing the best of what Singapore has to offer to the world. We thrive on creating, on pushing boundaries, on challenging norms... that’s what keeps us ahead of the game.

Secondly, I believe that our followers value our authenticity. Because we love the brand ourselves, we are sincere in how we conduct ourselves, in the products that we put out there, and in how we use the brand to build community. Our long-time followers have told us the brand love is real and irreplaceable.

It’s unavoidable in business to have copycats and bandwagoners for successful concepts, so we have prepared our strategy for this since the beginning. We trust that our followers are a discerning bunch.

Because we love the brand ourselves,
we are sincere
in how we conduct ourselves,
in the products
that we put out there,
and in how
we use the brand
to build community.

Hazel (left) is wearing our KIMBRA Jumpsuit and Edwin (right) is wearing our TIMOTEE Top.

On the topic of challenges, how has Birds of Paradise evolved over the past year since the pandemic began?

It’s been extremely challenging for the F&B industry as a whole, but I chose to reconsider my perspective to see the slight silver lining we still had, amidst the overall gloom.

Despite the complete cease of most industries during the 2020’s Circuit Breaker, we were fortunate enough to be categorized under Essential Services that could still continue to operate. In 2021, whilst F&B continued to receive enhanced government support, other industries (like Retail or the Arts) lacked the same level of support...even though they were similarly affected.

For us in particular, we were fortunate to bounce back quickly from the closures, so we counted our blessings and looked for ways that we could pay it forward. During the Circuit Breaker, Birds of Paradise and In Good Company came together to create A Little Community of Good, together with local businesses Books Actually, Edith Patisserie, Mud Rock Ceramics and Petit Pain. We each rallied our communities to fund-raise with us for HealthServe, where the collective matched the public donations dollar-for-dollar.

While our mission has always been outward looking at how we can contribute to the community, I think the pandemic has redoubled our efforts to make it happen.

Hazel is wearing our TIBI Top and REDDIN Pants.

On a more light hearted note, while we’re in Katong on a Sunday enjoying gelato, what else should we check out?

Rumah Bebe — hands down the best Peranakan restaurant in Singapore! One mouthful and you just know that the food is made with love. They’re definitely one of Katong’s hidden gems, you have to shimmy in through a set of handsome pintu pagar that opens up into the most beautiful Peranakan space.

I also love Petit Pain. They’re just real, honest people making real, honest food from the heart. I consider myself a croissant aficionado, and they’re definitely my go-to croissant guys.

And Katong Chicken Rice — I love the soup more than the chicken rice itself!

Photographed at Birds of Paradise Gelato Boutique at 63 East Coast Road. Styled by IN GOOD COMPANY.

Visit Birds of Paradise Gelato Boutique and IN GOOD COMPANY at Jewel Changi Airport (#01-214/215/216). Find out more @bopgelato or on their website here.