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Born during the pandemic, George Town’s Utoo Boho offers French-style desserts with local flavors

The Utoo Boho Cafe has a dreamy bohemian-style space for people to relax. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

By Opalyn Mok

Sunday, 19 Jun 2022 9:48 AM MYT

GEORGE TOWN, June 19 — If you cross nyonya kuih with French pastries, the result will be desserts with traditional nyonya flavor notes in pretty French pastry shapes.

This is exactly what a new bohemian-style dessert cafe — Utoo Boho — is serving up this month in celebration of local nyonya traditions.

The Nyonya caneles, one of the pastries available during their Nyonya season promotion in Utoo Boho Cafe.  — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

The Nyonya caneles, one of the pastries available during their Nyonya season promotion in Utoo Boho Cafe. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

The nyonya pulut tai tai and pulut inti are given a French twist and renamed as “Madame Tai-Tai” and “Inti-mate” while there are also kaya cinnamon and kaya Madeleines.

The cafe changes the flavor notes and themes of its desserts every two months and this nyonya theme is until the end of June.

Cafe owner Desmond Khoo said only a few high-demand desserts will remain constant on the menu while they change the rest of the offerings every two months.

Utoo Boho Cafe owner Desmond Khoo speaks to Malay Mail. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

Utoo Boho Cafe owner Desmond Khoo speaks to Malay Mail. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

“We want to continue offering new items so that people can try out the different repertoire of recipes my chefs come up with,” he said.

He said his team of chefs are given free rein to express their creativity in developing unique desserts so that customers will not get bored with the same pastries and cakes every time they visit.

Unlike most eateries that prefer their customers to eat and leave, Khoo designed his cafe to be a warm and welcoming place for people to relax and spend time with their friends and loved ones.

The 45-year-old had always led a nomadic life where he traveled for work most of the time and seldom spent time in Penang, his hometown.

It was during the Covid-19 pandemic that he finally came back to stay in his hometown for good and he decided to set up a cafe of his dreams.

Only a few high-demand desserts will remain constant on the menu while they change the rest of the offerings every two months.  — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

Only a few high-demand desserts will remain constant on the menu while they change the rest of the offerings every two months. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

The cafe space was previously a plant-themed cafe where he organized terrarium workshops while the cafe component was managed by a business partner.

I have decided to give the cafe a complete overhaul and turn it into a dreamy bohemian-style space for people to relax.

“In all my years of travelling, I always craved a safe, peaceful place to relax and spend time with my loved ones so I decided to create such a space for myself which became this cafe,” he said.

He believes in spreading love and joy and wanted to use his cafe to do just that, to spread a sense of wellbeing, love and joy through desserts and a beautiful decor.

The Utoo Boho Cafe is designed to be warm and welcoming.  — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

The Utoo Boho Cafe is designed to be warm and welcoming. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

“Even the name of my cafe is based on the concept of love, Utoo stands for ‘you too’, and it is to tell customers that we love them too and welcome them back anytime,” he said.

There are different sections of the cafe to cater to different needs, such as a section for those who like to sit on cushions on the floor under a canopy, like they are having a picnic.

The entrance of the cafe itself is unique where a pathway of pebbles and bamboo archway lead customers inside to a sunlit space decorated in muted beige and cream colors with handicrafts displayed throughout the space.

The entrance of the cafe itself is unique where a pathway of pebbles and bamboo archway lead customers inside to a sunlit space decorated in muted beige and cream colours.  — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

The entrance of the cafe itself is unique where a pathway of pebbles and bamboo archway lead customers inside to a sunlit space decorated in muted beige and cream colours. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

“I made most of the decorative items here including the macrame in the cafe, I wanted to add that personal touch to the cafe,” he said.

The renovations for the cafe took about a year in 2021 and it opened on December 24 that year despite Khoo being bedridden due to a fall.

“I wanted it to open on Christmas Eve no matter what and despite my team’s protests, we opened our doors with only croissants and coffee on our menu,” Khoo said.

Though the cafe started out as a dessert cafe, it will soon be offering heartier meals such as pasta so that customers can have lunch and dessert there too.

The cafe will soon be offering heartier meals, like this Utoo carbonara pasta.  — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

The cafe will soon be offering heartier meals, like this Utoo carbonara pasta. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

In July, the cafe will celebrate World Chocolate Day by offering chocolate-themed desserts.

Khoo believes that his insistence on opening the cafe during the pandemic was the right move for his own personal growth.

“I am much happier now, I finally have a sense of belonging, I have sold off all of my other businesses to focus here and I feel very rooted,” he said.

He said the cafe was more of a dream project to soothe his tired soul so the aim was not to earn high profits.

There are different sections of the cafe to cater to different needs.  — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

There are different sections of the cafe to cater to different needs. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

“It will be a bonus if we do start making profits from it and I have told my team that in future, they will be taking charge of it and the profits will be distributed among them,” he said.

Utoo Boho, at 156, Victoria Street, is open daily from 9am to 11pm.

The cafe changes the flavor notes and themes of its desserts every two months.  — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

The cafe changes the flavor notes and themes of its desserts every two months. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

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