As you get off the modern tram at the picturesque Portuguese town of Belem, the gleaming cobblestone floors along with the wafting aromas of fresh pastry will guide you to your final destination—the Pasteis De Belem bakery. One bite into the elusive yet ridiculously delicious egg custard tart sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar, famously known as the Pastel De Nata, and you’re pretty much addicted. Now before you book your tickets to Lisbon, this conscious bazaar writer is here to tell you that the authentic experience is available right here in Kuwait – all thanks to the good people behind Al Nata.
Al Nata, a division of Europate Kuwait, was conceived by silent baker Ahmed Ja’afar, architect turned Chief Creative Officer and Master Baker Miguel Costa along with operations guru and General Manager Christopher Vaughan. Al Nata marks the start of a beautiful, pastry-filled era in Kuwait’s local culinary scene. “The Kuwaiti public enjoys a very developed culinary palate, and given that we are dealing with a well traveled population, we couldn’t think of fooling them when it comes to the original Pastel De Nata,” said Chris, “our aim from the start of our endeavor is to give our customers the authentic Nata experience and make it available to all, along with perfecting our pastry.” Chris knows that the team is on the right track simply by observing their customers’ reactions. “We know we got it right when we see that look of sheer joy, the magical discovery of knowing that you don’t have to fly to Europe anymore to enjoy these delicacies.”
Naturally, the trio of foodies behind Al Nata met over breakfast, and a bond that is formed over good food, music and great conversation is one that is hard to break. For Portuguese-born Miguel, making the Nata first began as a hobby, “whenever I felt homesick, I’d venture into the kitchen and prep a fresh batch of Natas. Even though I am an architect and designer by trade, cooking has been a big part of my life ever since I could remember. As a kid, I spent more hours inside my grandma’s kitchen than at the playground.” When the idea of taking the homemade Nata nationwide came into play, Miguel enrolled in a professional course in Lisbon to perfect making the Nata from scratch. Putting his meticulous architectural background to use, witnessing Miguel prepare the pastry at the team’s local industrial kitchen is an incredible experience. We asked him if he preferred designing to pastry-making, and to this he replied, “You can design in the kitchen! The kitchen challenge has been a pleasant one so far. Baking wise, the tempo is fantastic, and when compared to architecture, the time frame might differ, but the mindset is the same. You need to plan before you go, and have the patience for it to materialize. I put up my ruler and my pen for baking flour and a rolling pin, and it’s been worth every moment. It is a little part of who we all are as a team with its playfulness, and it is also a little part of my home that we love sharing with people in Kuwait.”
For Ahmed, deciding to partner up with Miguel and Chris was a natural decision. While the pastries were thoroughly enjoyed by their diwaniya friends, Ahmed said, “we always wanted to start by institutionalizing the dessert the same way baklava is perceived by the local public. Rather than seek high end concepts for a great pastry at much higher price points, Al Nata is able to offer incredible pastry at an affordable price.” Speaking to this goal, you can find this little egg-custard tart of goodness at all Sultan Center outlets across Kuwait, Qout Market, and even ordering online through Talabat.com.
For Chris, having the knowledge behind any culinary operation is key. Having worked in a hotel and restaurant environment for the longest time, he is happiest in the Al Nata kitchen with his fellow comrades. First a student of investment banking, his passion for the hospitality industry could not be stopped. His journeys took him from South Africa to the Maldives to Kuwait, where he initially worked with Gastronomica in Kuwait before partnering up with Ahmed and Miguel. His passion for great pastry is also a part of the business’s driving force. He picked up one of the Natas prepared for our tasting session, squeezed the pastry slightly, and declared, “there’s nothing like that crunch. The fact that we can bring that here is exciting!”
The story does not end with the glorious Pastel De Nata. If anything, the small pastry has unleashed the team’s creative direction to widen their dessert selection by building on the the way that the Nata is artfully prepared. It is the Nata’s shape and size that allowed the team to come up with more scintillating creations, like the Claudino.
The Claudino is perhaps best described as Al Nata’s vision for what a traditional éclair should have been. The Claudino is constructed with intricate layers of puff pastry, a thin salted-dark chocolate slab that serves as the middle layer, along with your choice of cream (in our case we tried the lemon curd), finished off with more puff pastry. Miguel explained that when it comes to pastry, nothing like this has ever been attempted in Kuwait, “anything that we create that is entirely new is an organic bi-product of the original Nata. Our core strength is the puff pastry, and the creations we come up are directly related to the concept.”
Other offerings include a nata-sized, white chocolate raspberry cheesecake along with a lemon cheesecake, that delivers on new flavors and textures. This is their interpretation, fragrant, light and airy, yet indulgent. We also sampled little rounds of flaky, crunchy crusted pastry truffles, filled with sumptuous chocolate. Prepared with three different layers, along with either a pistachio or hazelnut praline filling, this dessert has temporarily taken the alias ‘shino hatha?’ (what is it?) Simply because, once you’ve tried it, it will elicit this very wondrous reaction. The culinary gurus also concocted a line of infused Natas with imaginative offerings like cappuccino, Chai-Haleeb or Madagascar vanilla. Better yet, we also learned that they are planning on including croissants to become a permanent part of the Al Nata range. We’re calling it, once croissants become available from these pastry experts, Friday breakfast and Saturday brunch will never be same again. Finally, it is important to mention that the original Pastel De Nata range is dairy free; and like the principal range, the complimentary range of pastries and desserts are prepared without artificial additives, sweeteners, or preservatives. They are truly made from scratch, and with a whole lot of heart.
Get you Nata fix by heading to a Sultan Center near you, visiting the Al Nata booth at Qout Market, or order online through talabat.com. Call 5133 6645 for delivery, or visit www.alnata.com or @Al_Nata on Instagram for more information.