Japan's Pablo baked cheese tarts now in Malaysia

PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

At 10am yesterday, 1 Utama was only beginning to stir. Shutters were being rolled up, sales people were readying themselves for the day ahead and a few early shoppers were taking slow strolls through the still-quiet mall.

But outside the Pablo outlet, on the second floor of the Old Wing, things were quite different. The famed Japanese cheese tart chain was opening its first outlet in Malaysia, and in anticipation of the traffic surge, barriers were set up to control the expected crowd.

The Pablo outlet in 1 Utama is the first to open in Malaysia.Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

At 10am, a considerable queue had already formed. By noon, rows and rows of people were standing patiently in line, waiting to get their hands on Pablo's delicious cheese tarts (the first 100 in the queue even bagged free tarts!).

Standing proudly in front of the store was the dapper, handsome Masamitsu Sakimoto, the founder of Pablo, who flew in for the store launch.

Masamitsu Sakimoto came up with the recipe for Pablo cheese tarts after six months of experimentation.Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

Sakimoto is used to queues snaking outside his stores and says he has a worldwide goal: "I want to make everybody fall in love with Pablo!"

In this sense, his job is a pretty easy one. Pablo (the name is derived from the artist Pablo Picasso) first opened in Osaka, Japan in 2011 and became an instant hit. Since its inception, the brand has sold six million of its classic cheese tarts!

In Malaysia, the 1 Utama outlet is the first of a planned 15 outlets, slated to open in the next three years.

On the menu are its classic freshly baked cheese tarts and chocolate and green tea cheese tarts, premium cheese tarts, cheese tart crunchies, soft serve cheese ice cream and a whole host of cheesy concoctions.

Pablo offers a whole range of cheesy delights, including this decadent premium cheese tart.Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

Mini tarts go for RM8.90 (S$2.85) while the larger freshly baked cheese tarts (about the size of a small cake) are priced at RM45.90.

What's missing however, is the one tart everybody is hoping to dig into: that ooey, gooey, creamy soft-centre tart that's melting hearts all over Japan.

In Japan, customers are able to order their cheese tarts according to two degrees of doneness - rare and medium rare - while in Malaysia, only the medium rare option is available.

The medium rare has a soft-slightly firm texture balance. According to Sakimoto, the medium rare cheese tart variants are what Pablo offers in all its overseas outlets as it can stay at room temperature for a longer period.

Are cheese tarts the next big thing in Singapore?

  • Popular Japanese cheese tart shop Bake will open its first outlet in Singapore on April 29.
  • The flagship shop in South-east Asia will be located at B4-33 in Ion Orchard.
  • The cheese tarts are from Kinotoya, an established Western confectionery in Hokkaido, Japan, in 2011.
  • They became such a hit that Bake was set up three years later in Tokyo, and specialises in selling them.
  • The bakery has nine outlets across Japan, and also in Hong Kong, Seoul and Bangkok. Long queues often form for the tarts.
  • Bake sold 10 million tarts in Japan in 2015.
  • On opening in Singapore, Bake's president and chief executive Shintaro Naganuma, who is in town to launch the brand here, says: "From here, we can reach out to many different countries. Tourists from around the region and world often come to or transit in Singapore."
  • The molten mousse tart filling is made with three types of cream cheese - two from Hokkaido and one from France, and the crispy pastry is baked twice.
  • In Singapore, the cheese tarts will cost $3.50 each, and a box of six tarts will be priced at $19.50. Each customer can buy 12 tarts at a time.
  • French patisserie Antoinette started selling them in five flavours, such as grand gru chocolate and matcha.
  • Prima Deli sells more than 7,000 of its lava cheese tarts across its 40 outlets daily.
  • The tarts have been selling so well that bakeries recommend customers pre-order them.
  • At The Icing Room, which is run by the BreadTalk group, response to its cheese tarts has been "overwhelming", with two to three batches sold out within two hours every day.
  • Besides Italian mascarpone cheese, The Icing Room uses cream cheese from New Zealand as it has a "refreshing sour tanginess" and fresh Hokkaido milk in its filling.
  • The tarts include golden lava egg tarts filled with salted egg yolk custard and coconut egg tarts.
  • A BreadTalk spokesman says: "We started developing baked cheese tarts early last year as cheesecakes. Cheese-related products are loved as desserts by diners here."
  • The queue for Bake Cheese Tarts at its first shop in Singapore started at 8.15am on April 29, almost two hours before the shop at B4 of Ion Orchard opened.
  • By the time it did, there were at least 30 in the queue. Although staff told customers the wait would be more than two hours, many stayed on.
  • Bake Cheese Tart is from Hokkaido, Japan, and is famous for its mousse-like cream cheese filling and crisp pastry.
  • The tarts went into the oven an hour before the store opened, to ensure that they would be at their freshest.
  • They need to cool for 30 minutes before being sold, to ensure that the tarts have enough time to firm up.
  • Finance analyst Sherman Wong, 30, was one of the first in the queue, arriving at 8.30am.
  • "My wife's colleague tried it in Japan. He's not the kind to eat a lot of nice things at one shot, but he ate six of the cheese tarts at one go, so the expectation is high. Now that it has come to Singapore, hopefully the quality is good."
  • Immediately after buying the tarts, he ate one.
  • "It's soft on the inside, crispy on the outside, and it's not very sweet.
  • Most importantly, you can taste the cheese inside, which is the key point of the tart," he said
  • Others who had tried the tarts elsewhere raved about them too.
  • "I normally don't eat sweets, but the tarts are rich, yet not cloying, so I find myself having a few even though I don't really eat desserts," said Ms Sandra Chia, 27, who owns a party supplies business.
  • The shop had prepared 4,000 tarts for its opening, and expects a second delivery later in the day. Customers are limited to 12 tarts each. They cost $3.50 each or $19.50 for a box of six.

So just what do these cheese tarts taste like? Well, pretty darn good actually! The freshly baked medium rare cheese tart is a soft, velvety smooth beauty so tender, cheesy and melty in the mouth (especially when freshly made) that you'll be making loud, exaggerated exclamations of pleasure with each mouthful!

And just when you think things can't get any better, they do! Malaysian cheese tart lovers will have more to look forward to in the coming months as Sakimoto says he is already working on a durian-flavoured cheese tart!

"I'm trying to make durian cheese tarts and durian smoothies. It will come out sometime in the future, so please look out for it," he says.

Pablo Cheese Tarts
1 Utama Shopping Mall
2nd floor Old Wing
Petaling Jaya

Review: 3 best cheese tarts in Singapore

  • There are two flavours, original ($2.40) and salted yolk ($2.80), available in limited quantity daily. While we lean a little more towards the latter for the potent salted yolk filling, both are pretty legit - golden, buttery tart shells and oozy fillings that live up to the "Lava Cheese Tart" name.
  • Price: From $2.40, at all Prima Deli outlets including #01-20 Square 2 (6397-2359).
  • Recently, they tackled the salted egg yolk croissant craze with a full series of seven croissant fillings. Now, they've responded to the cheese tart fervour with a collection of five - vanilla, matcha, salted yolk, salted caramel, and Grand Cru chocolate - served up on flaky puff pastry.

    There's no mistaking the premium quality of the bakes, but the vanilla is a little too safe, the matcha is somewhat subdued, and the salted caramel felt kinda last season. But the Grand Cru had us charmed by the way the bitter chocolate played off the creaminess of the cheese tart. And call us cliche, but we're still very fond of the salted yolk version for its salty kick and the requisite sandy texture.

  • Price: From $2.60, only at the Penhas outlet, 30 Penhas Road (6293-3121).
  • This adheres to the classic Japanese-style cheese tart, so don't expect the cream cheese filling to be molten and flowy. What you get instead is a texture that's crumbly at first bite but turns smooth and creamy in the mouth. The cream cheese centre is a melange of three different cream cheeses, two from Hokkaido and a third from France, and twice-baked into a thick buttery crust (slightly too thick for our liking).

    The shop says that the cheese tart tastes a little different depending on the temperature served: warmed in the oven, at room temperature, chilled, or frozen. Our verdict? Have them chilled for a silky mouthfeel and to do justice to the delicate sweet-sour balance of the cream cheese filling.

  • Price: $3.50, at its Ion Orchard outlet at #B4-33.