LAB: The Bakery Café Experiment is an interesting choice of name considering the people behind this new Strathfield bakery are industry veterans and their recipes the result of expertise rather than experimentation.
For close to a decade, Young Oh and his wife Soon Ok ran Suwahre, an Eastwood bakery wholesaler that specialised in Korean rice cakes. The business, run almost singlehandedly by the Ohs, quickly became the supplier of sweet and savoury rice cakes to Korean shops all over Sydney.
After selling the business in 2012 and taking a much-needed break, the pair was inspired by the bakery-cafes in Seoul and decided to open LAB.
“My parents wanted to continue making rice cakes but also create a space that was accessible for a younger audience,” says manager Sarah Oh, the pair’s daughter.
The result is a shop that’s one part cafe selling Pablo & Rusty’s coffee alongside fresh fruit juices and matcha slushies, and one part Asian bakery with shelves of breads and pastries baked daily. The staff calls out greetings as you enter and there’s a large picture window at the rear where you can see the bakers working.
Items change regularly as new recipes are developed. There are what Sarah describes as “fusion cakes”, European-style cakes flavoured with taro or green tea. There are also cakes iced in fresh cream topped with colourful piles of fruit.
The croquette (a vegetable-filled bread roll that resembles a dumpling) are popular, as is an oblong castella, a Japanese sponge cake.
The selection of things filled with pat is vast. Pat (put your tongue between your front teeth to pronounce it correctly) is red-bean paste, an ingredient traditionally believed to keep bad luck at bay.
A recipe for chewy, sticky rice balls filled with pat survives from the Suwahre days and is Young’s favourite. He imports the filling from Korea because he says it’s superior to what you can find in Australia. Korean pat is dark red, not overly sweet and the flecks of kidney bean skins are visible in the mixture.
Each morning Young and Soon go to Flemington Markets to buy fruit to top the cakes with and to use in drinks and the bingsoo, a traditional Korean dessert. It is normally made with plain shaved ice, sweet toppings, syrups and condensed milk. “It feels like real snow,” says Young. If it’s in season, try the mango bingsoo.
It’s early afternoon when Broadsheet visits and it’s busy, but Sarah says it’s nothing compared to evenings. And the Ohs have turned down numerous franchise requests.
“The quality will go down with a franchise,” Young says. “We want to make everything on-site and with a franchise we can’t keep up.”
One day he’ll consider opening other shops but will keep them in the family, “with quality controlled by us.”
LAB: The Bakery Café Experiment
4 The Boulevard, Strathfield
Mon to Fri 6.30am–11.30pm