Limoné café founder Sherina Mahtani-Binwani shares how MCO helped build her F&B business

She also reveals her passion for travel and inherent entrepreneurial drive.

Founder Sherina Mahtani-Binwani (Photo: Low Yen Yeing/ The Edge Malaysia)

Options: Congratulations on opening Limoné. We understand your children helped you come up with the name. Tell us a little about it.
Sherina Mahtani-Binwani: The story is actually a little different. I started baking a lot during the MCO, as did most people. And my children had gotten fed up with me feeding them endless cakes and biscuits daily. So, they asked me to sell it online instead and even created a menu, price list and Instagram account for the business. It was called Baked by Sher.

So, how did an online business become a bricks-and-mortar space, as evinced by Limoné?
So, as Baked by Sher grew and grew and more complicated orders began to come in, I had to start learning and improving my skills. You must remember I was a self-taught baker up to that point. I began looking for baking courses, especially on how to improve my icing, and met chef Tee Jiunn Hoong. He taught me and we became good friends. So, when his own café closed as a result of the MCO, we had the idea of setting something up together and Limoné is the happy result. We are on the same wavelength when it comes to cakes — nothing is too sweet, it’s all very French and there is zero compromise on the ingredients.

The European influence is very evident in Limoné, even in its design. The cafe’s name is very much inspired by Positano, Italy, and lemon trees. In fact, that’s how we came up with the name Limoné. If you are seated outside, you will feel as if you are in an Italian garden. Inside, however, it’s more French-inspired, like a bistro.


Sweet treats abound at the Italian garden-inspired café (Photo: Low Yen Yeing/ The Edge Malaysia)

Limoné is gaining popularity for its seasonal menus and treats. What have you lined up for the Chinese New Year?
During Diwali last year, our saffron milk cake, cumin butter cookies and pistachio rose cake were best-sellers. So, for the Year of the Rabbit, we have created several items with elements of mandarin oranges, as befits the season. There’s the supreme Swiss roll with kaffir lime, cheese and mandarin oranges, an orange blossom petit gâteau, pineapple tarts where I made the pineapple jam myself, cakes and cupcakes in the shape of bunnies and our take on traditional baked treats, like peanut cookies and cornflake biscuits.

Why do you think it is important to keep busy and productive? I mean, you could easily have taken the lady of leisure route.
The spirit of entrepreneurship runs very strongly in my family. My grandparents moved to Indonesia after the partition of India in 1947. My grandfather started the family business from nothing while it was my dad who changed the direction of the company, from textiles to garment manufacturing. I was always surrounded by go-getting men from a young age. So, I guess that also made me very driven, with an inability to sit still. I must add that keeping active mentally and physically slows down the ageing process!

What are you reading right now?
I have no time for anything else but Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks. He is my go-to and I have always loved his cakes and other baked items.


The cafe’s name is inspired by Positano, Italy, and lemon trees (Photo: Low Yen Yeing/ The Edge Malaysia)

What are you listening to right now?
My taste in music is very mixed and depends on the mood or situation. If I’m at the gym, it’s house music, which is very pumping and gives me energy. If on a flight, something mellow and slow-paced. And when I’m baking, funnily enough, it’s the top hits.

You grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia. Please tell us some of the must-dos and best places to eat while there.
I visit Jakarta primarily for family and social reasons, but it is an incredible destination. Just watch out for the macet or traffic, which is still really bad. There are some great museums and I always recommend Puncak, the closest highlands from the capital. We have a holiday home there and it’s perfect for a spot of R&R. But to be honest, enjoying the food is the best thing to do.

What would you recommend?
There are a lot of amazing eateries but the Cork & Screw Country Club is always good, as well as Social House at Grand Indonesia. I also miss the local food very much, especially Indonesian satay and nasi goreng. Malaysia has those too, but the flavours in Jakarta are very different. Also, it’s what I grew up eating, so the comfort level cannot be equalled.


A meal at Cork & Screw Country Club is a must in Jakarta (Photo; Cork & Screw Country Club)

Travel is another great passion of yours. Which destinations are at the top of your 2023 list, and why?
London — to visit my daughter who is in university there. I feel as if I could live in London anytime. Paris is lovely too but language remains a barrier. Having said that, Tee and I would like to go to France sometime soon: for inspiration, to explore the café scene, to try all the new and different desserts and to get some baking courses done while we are there.

And which cafés have you set your sights on?
In Paris, it is Des Gâteaux et du Pain, Pain de Sucre, Yann Couvreur Pâtisserie, A. Lacroix Pâtissier, Cédric Grolet at Le Meurice, Maison Aleph, Michalak, Café Pouchkine … there’re just so many to explore!  


This article first appeared on Jan 16, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.


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