Accounting graduate turned baker Raymond Tan made a name for himself on Instagram, where he has over 270,000 fans. He’s renowned for his colorful, modern and imaginative cakes and his “cake pops” (similar to lollipops, but made from leftover cake scraps).

Tan’s been taking custom cake orders for years, but in late June, after years of planning, he finally opened his first physical store, Raya. And his Malaysian roots play a big role.

“It's always been a dream of mine to have my mini cakeshop-slash-cafe,” Tan says. “I’m pretty well-known for cake decorating, but I’ve always wanted more people to taste my food.”

But when the pandemic hit, even though most of his cake orders were cancelled, he didn’t put that dream on hold. “I thought, ‘Okay, this is a good time to rest. Or learn something new’.”

He started making kuih, a petite, glutinous dessert common in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, and it’s become Raya’s signature.

“We eat kuih pretty much on every occasion, at markets, for breakfast, as a snack, but also at parties, birthdays and at Chinese New Year,” Tan says. “It’s really rare here. You can buy kuih at grocery stores, but not commonly in Melbourne cafes.”

Most of the kuih at Raya are vegan. There’s a savoury angku (mung bean paste) one; bingka ubi kayu, a cassava cake; and the ondeh ondeh, a green, coconut-covered cake with a liquid burst of gula melaka (palm sugar).

“I'm hoping to do a monthly changeover of the kuih, but the favourites will stay,” says Tan.

Cakes come by the slice at the cafe, and you can pre-order whole cakes online. There’s a butter cake with brown sugar and soybean powder; a sweet spinach cake with yoghurt cream and pomegranate; a dark-chocolate banana cake; and a Thai milk-tea cake. If you enjoy light cakes, the pandan chiffon is the way to go.

There are jumbo cookies too, weighing in at 120 grams each, with flavours such as double choc chip and walnut; orange, ginger and dark chocolate; and rose, strawberry and pistachio. There’s also a gula melaka cookie studded with chunks of coconut and white chocolate.

A take on fortune cookies is made with a biscuit similar to tuile, spiced with cinnamon and cardamom. Each one is dipped in chocolate and paired with a different topping. The red velvet, for example, is topped with little chunks of white chocolate and freeze-dried raspberries.

On the savoury side there are Malaysian chicken-and-potato curry pies; beef bourginon pies; and house-made breakfast brioche rolls filled with soy-and-white-pepper scrambled eggs, caramelised onions and grilled Spam.

“My mum would make Spam for me, we’d eat it for breakfast when I was growing up,” Tan says. “The bread is different now, we’d have it with white bread back then. Our bread roll is in between a brioche and shokupan bread.”

Tan plans to sell cake pops here when dine-in customers are allowed again, as well as salads – usually you’d find miso-ginger greens; roasted pumpkin with gochujang yoghurt; and Korm-spiced grilled cauliflower with grains on the list.

Matcha is from tea supplier Zen Wonders in North Melbourne, and coffee is roasted just down the road at Come Back to Earth, one of Tan’s favourite cafes. “The coffee goes really well with my desserts,” he says. “The blends are a bit more floral.”

The 24-seat cafe was designed by Tan and his friends. It’s warmly lit, with pale wood furniture, a banquette along one wall, a communal table that can be used for workshops, and an open kitchen with stainless-steel pots, pans and baking trays piled high.

“The brief was just to create a space that is like an extension of my apartment kitchen,” Tan says. “My home is pretty much full Ikea, but in the shop it’s a bit more lifted. I just wanted it to feel really comfortable, like you’re walking into someone’s kitchen.”

In light of Melbourne’s renewed stage-three lockdown, Raya is open for takeaway only. Pre-ordering is recommended, and deliveries are fulfilled on weekends.

Raya
2/61 Little Collins Street, Melbourne

Hours:
Thu to Sun 9am–3pm

rayamelbourne.com