a taste for travel

wanderlust interiors
wanderlust table
wanderlust plants

the homey vibe has given way to clean, contemporary chic. the plush sofas are gone and in their place, rattan chairs nostalgic of yesteryear kopitiams. most noticeably, the bookshelves that were lined with volumes of lonely planet and other travel guides are no more. indeed, departure lounge has taken a well, departure from its original incarnation and transformed into a completely new dining spot.

what they have kept is the travel theme, reflected in the new name – wanderlust restaurant & espresso bar – and marked by white and blue paper planes that form part of the table decor. the same colour palette dresses up the minimalist space, highlighted by a ‘chandelier’ of clear glass bottles.

the food is not unlike the makings of a good getaway: explorative, innovative and peppered with interesting discoveries. the day menu (opening till 5pm) lists updated breakfast favourites alongside familiar dishes renewed with creative pairings.

wanderlust spinach salad
wanderlust lollipops

the baked eggs, for example, features grilled apples; the momofuku-inspired gua bao sandwiches thick slabs of fried chicken thighs; chicharron is made halal by using chicken skin in place of the usual pork; flaming wings are served with spiced watermelon. the wanderlust benedict jazzes up the usual poached-eggs-on-brioche by drizzling it over with a curry hollandaise and on the side, paratha pieces. even the eggs have been given a twist: first poached, then deep fried so what you get is a runny yolk encased in wobbly whites and coated in a crispy batter.

this egg-cellent incarnation is also the star of the baby spinach salad with apples, raisins, beets and goji dressed in an orange vinaigrette. the mix appears random, and the dressing is so subtle that when it arrives at the table, you’d think they forgot the vinaigrette. but dig in and the pairings make sense, bringing everything together in a balance of delicate flavours.

on the other hand, the chicken and prawn lollipops with a tom yum dip packs on the flavour in the latter. as the dish makes its way to you, its tangy aroma already wakes up the appetite. the lollipops, wrapped around sticks of lemongrass and panfried, are generously studded with chopped onions that give the minced paste a fragrant sweetness and a lovely crunch.

wanderlust sago

desserts are limited to just three options: the punny beeramisu (tiramisu with beer), a comforting matcha soy pudding and a westernised take on sago gula melaka, served in a cocktail glass topped with crushed hazelnut brittle, a shot of ristretto and a tiny pitcher of hot cream. the pearls are cooked just right but the brittle renders the sago so sweet that even the sharpness of the ristretto doesn’t give it the right balance.

all in all, wanderlust lives up to its name, delivering many treats to adventurous palates.

 

10 jalan solaris 4, solaris mont kiara tel +603 6211 9688 opens 11am-11pm, mon-fri; 9am-11pm, sat-sun facebook


 

handmade gems in coconut milk

pak su cendol closeup
pak su overview

i made my way to a food truck that’s parked opposite a mosque, underneath tarpaulin sheets tied between two tall trees. i love this aspect of our local food scene: casual eateries that serve simple, comforting meals amidst an al fresco environment surrounded by lush greens. call me sentimental but in my books, food that’s served under the shade of leafy trees always tastes better.

a bunting tied to one of the trees displays the truck’s menu: cendol, ais batu campur, rojak, mee rebus and mee kari. such food trucks are common across malaysia and most of the offerings are pretty standard fare. but ferhad had told me that this proprietor makes his own cendol by hand, which is a rarity and that was what i was keen to check out.

i started with a bowl of cendol and a plate of rojak mamak or pasembur. i had arrived on a rainy afternoon so there was no crowd and it was just a matter of minutes before my order was laid out on the long table covered with plastic tablecloth. i dug into the cendol first and was glad to note that they didn’t give me a mountain of shaved ice as some stalls do but a good amount that’s balanced by coconut milk. you have the option of adding red beans (they use kidney beans) or glutinous rice.

the cendol itself, jade green and worm-like, were fairly thick and of uneven forms as i expected to see, due to their handmade nature. they imparted a subtle pandan fragrance and flavour, which told of their authenticity, and were slippery soft yet firm to the bite. the gula melaka, another important component that can make or break a cendol, was another plus point – aromatic and not overly sweet.

pak su abc
pak su mee

altogether, it was a refreshing and highly satisfying bowl of dessert that paired really well with the rojak. slivers of finely-julienned jicama and cucumber sat in a pool of chunky peanut sauce with bite-sized pieces of fritters, a hard-boiled egg and blanched bean sprouts. i would have loved more vegetables in the mix, but it’s a small shortcoming that was easily made up for by the rest of the dish. the sauce had a spicy kick to it that gave just enough heat without overpowering the rest of it. the fritters were another delight, full of flavour and most importantly, tasted fresh and not greasy.

it prompted me to try more of their food so i ordered the ais batu campur (abc) and mee rebus. the abc, while striking to look at with its vibrant pink jelly pearls and green jelly, was too sweet for my liking. the latter, on the other hand, was an appetising plate of yellow noodles in a thick, creamy sauce that’s cooked from fresh prawns, sweet potatoes, curry leaves and a blend of spices including cumin, star anise, fennel and cloves. most mee rebus tends to lean towards either the sweet or the spiced side but this was a good balance of both. the sauce had a good depth of well-rounded flavours that unfolded in the mouth.

there’s a richness and freshness to the dishes, and when i spoke to owner mohamad hanefah bin abdul latif, his food mantras say it all: “i cook as i would want to eat” and “always cook with love”. hanefah, whom friends and customers fondly call pak su – su being short for bongsu, which means the youngest in the family and he is – went on to tell me the importance of sustainability in this business. “you must do things properly, no chin chai!” that means not skimping on any ingredients or proven methods, even if it takes longer or delivers a lower yield. the green of the cendol, for example, must come from natural pandan essence and not food colouring or flavouring. “i once had this customer, an elderly gentleman, who came to try my food and told me that the flavours are what he remembers from similar dishes he ate years ago,” said pak su. “he asked me to never change them.”

his food mantras say it all: ‘i cook as i would want to eat’ and ‘always cook with love’

pak su also personal reasons for staying faithful to the recipes, which he learnt from his late father who used to run a cendol stall near the old railway station in their hometown of batu gajah, perak. after spm, pak su spent a year and a half helping his father manage the stall and learning about the intricacies of cendol-making. it’s a long time to spend on picking up one skill, i remarked. pak su was quick to point out that there are many details to it and everything takes time.

the cendol is made by mixing rice flour, water and pandan essence and then pushing it through a special sieve. pak su and his brother mohamad abdul majid, who runs the truck with him, make the cendol themselves at home once every three to four days or whenever it runs out, using about 5kg of flour each time. the syrup that’s served with the cendol is a mixture of brown and white sugar scented with pandan leaves, an alternative they had to resort to as pure gula melaka has become scarce. the sugar mix needs to be cooked for up to five hours to achieve the desired consistency and taste.

pak su group shot
pak su tarpaulin

even though pak su has been making and selling cendol from his truck for 14 years now, he does not consider himself an expert and definitely not as good as his late father. “i’m still perfecting my skills as i go along,” he says modestly, adding that being humble is actually an important ingredient in making cendol. “whenever someone praises my food, i would just nod and smile. if i as much as boast, something is bound to go wrong the next time i make cendol!”

for the noodle dishes, pak su turned to his sisters for tutelage and as with the cendol, he continuously aims to perfect the recipes. “i still make mistakes,” he admitted, citing that time when he didn’t realise that the cumin he had always relied on had dropped in quality. that affected the flavour of the sauces and he received complaints from customers as well as his sisters. “they would scold me if something is not up to standard, and tell me not to sell it to my customers!” pak su also makes it a point to never serve leftovers; anything that’s unsold at the end of each business day is thrown or given away. when you eat at his stall, you can be assured that everything is freshly made that very morning.

pak su’s dedication to serving honest, good food and attention to details spills over to the way he runs his stall. i had observed as his brother abdul majid prepared the rojak. the ingredients were kept in a simple larder with open shelves that’s ubiquitous at food stalls but this one had a soft purple curtain covering it as a hygiene measure. he would lift the curtain to take out the ingredients as needed and as soon as an order was done, the curtain went back down. i looked around the truck and the seating area, and was pleased to note that everything was clean and neat, which is something we don’t see often enough at local food stalls. “of course cleanliness is important,” pak su confirmed. “who would want to eat at a stall that’s not clean? not me!”

the brothers are assisted by one staff who has been with them for more than 10 years now and the three share an easy camaraderie. for the first time visitor, it may be hard to tell who’s the boss and who’s the worker! pak su’s two teenage children help out during their school holidays and get paid proper wages. “last year, my elder son managed to save up a good amount from working for me and with that money, he paid for one sacrificial goat during hari raya,” the proud father revealed.

pak su’s dedication to serving honest, good food and attention to details spills over to the way he runs his stall

besides selling at their regular spot, pak su also does catering for private functions and corporate events, and is savvy enough to ensure that their uniform polo t-shirts are embroidered with the stall’s name and contact details on the back. pak su’s business acumen and exposure come from his previous jobs; he has worked at a fine dining restaurant of a five-star hotel in singapore and for four years, he was a steward on a private yacht. those were what he calls his ‘golden years’ as he had the opportunity to travel to more than 15 countries for free while earning a living.

it was also during that time that he met his good friend param jothy krishnan, now the captain of a private yacht, who encouraged him to establish this business and lent him the money for his start-up. param never once asked him to pay back the money but it was always pak su’s aim to do so. last year, he finally managed to save enough to repay his friend and supporter.

it would seem that everything is going pak su’s way, so is there anything else he would like to see through? “i’d encourage my children to travel,” he said. “everyone needs to see the world.” and if you’re a cendol fan, you need to travel to his neighbourhood and try his handmade dessert and spicy noodle dishes.

> pak su cendol is usually parked in front of the mosque along jalan liter u19/d, section u19, sungai buloh opens 10am-4.30pm daily

 

this article first appeared in crave and the malay mail online on 7 sep 2014

 

feeding the arts and soul

kons counter
kons menu

for four years, spa lovers and health enthusiasts found a sanctuary in nada lama spa & jamu bar, set among the leafy settings of bukit lanjan not far from damansara perdana. in a wooden house built in traditional malay architectural style, visitors enjoyed relaxing massages, a selection of health-boosting jamu (tonics brewed from spices and herbs) and a small menu of indonesian delights at their in-house cafe, warung.

when nada closed down about two years ago due to concerns over safety after landslides in the area, regulars thought they’d enjoyed the last of it but luckily for them, nada owner pamela noer has now teamed up with a group of collaborators to set up konscious cafe. occupying a corner space that’s actually part of clean pro laundry next door, the cafe is decked out in antique wooden furniture relocated from nada and sports that familiar homey, rustic vibe. the walls are painted stark black and soft greys, with the menu handwritten across the former while small artistic touches lend the warm interiors some bright touches.

besides jamu – though now whittled down to just the turmeric variant, which was their most popular – and some of warung’s bestsellers, konscious’s menu is guided by a belief in the simplicity of cooking and the use of all-natural ingredients. “traditionally, our food was all organic,” says pamela, “i want to bring that back at the cafe; food that is soulful, that fills and also fulfills.”

about 95 percent of the food served at konscious is organic; everything else is all natural and all fresh ingredients are first soaked in filter water from a kangen purifier, the only brand endorsed by the japanese ministry of health and which for 40 years, was used at hospitals in japan.

kons soba

konscious makes their own gluten-free pastas while scones and buns are supplied by white brick oven, a micro-bakery in sungai buloh that’s known for their artisanal breads. they also get some loaves from a baker who was formerly from craft baker, a company that practised stringent quality control in their organic produce. for their coffee drinks, konscious opted for incafe, a new zealand-based roaster that uses peruvian and indonesian beans and supports fair trade. several brands of organic teas are also available.

if that’s enough to set your health-loving heart aflutter, there’s more. “we prioritise recipes that do not require salt, often replacing it with herbs, lemon and lime. when necessary, only himalayan pink salt is used while apples and bananas are used in place of sugar,” pamela reveals. their dishes also incorporate superfoods such as chia seeds, maca powder and raw shelled hemp seeds – which can also be added to any of the dishes for rm3 a serving.

the cafe’s eco conscience doesn’t stop at their food but extends to what they are served on. certain dishes are plated on dinnerware by fallaleaf, a homegrown brand of disposable and degradable plates and bowls made of recycled nipah leaf. order a cold drink and you can slurp it up using straws fashioned from natural bamboo, sourced from sabah.

i want to bring that back at the cafe; food that is soulful, that fills and also fulfills

using the best ingredients and purest materials is, however, only halfway to the kind of food that konscious aims to deliver; the other important half of the equation is flavour. “we make sure our dishes are palatable so that even those who are not usually inclined towards healthy food would be willing to try and not feel like they’re eating rabbit feed!” while former nada regulars make up about 50 per cent of their current clientele and are therefore familiar with such cuisine, others are often surprised at how they managed to pack so much taste into every dish. 

global grub konscious’ menu runs the gamut from south east asian light bites to wholesome japanese fare, with some middle eastern flavours thrown in. those who have dined at warung would remember the vegan spring roll, a refreshing vietnamese-style appetiser that contains tofu and their house-made tofu mayonnaise, and the popular indonesian salad gado-gado.

kons burmes
kons banana smoo
kons latte
kons org teas

an interesting salad to try is the burmese fermented green tea version, a bowl of raw greens, nuts and cherry tomatoes topped with a scoop of the spicy paste, made of pounded green tea leaves that have been fermented using kefir, a natural probiotics that they cultured in-house and that is also served as a drink. naturally carbonated from the fermentation process, konscious’ version tastes a little like a yeasty coke.

another recommended meat-free delight is the herb and pistachio falafel burger, a generous portion of a nutty patty sandwiched in a crusty sourdough and layered with vegetables and a pink hummus that’s made of beetroot and chickpeas. 

while konscious offers a good selection of greens, meat and seafood are also on the table. “we’re not trying to tell people that they should only eat certain food, we just want to share what it means to eat well,” pamela explains, pointing out that diners also have the option of adding meat to the vegetarian eats.

there’s kha nom jeen, a thai specialty of rice noodles and raw vegetables tossed in a thick and minced fish sauce that delivers a nice kick of heat. for meat lovers, their chargrilled chicken is a must-try, served several different ways including in a vietnamese banh mi-style spelt baguette sandwich with a slap of chicken liver pate and with gluten-free miso soba, japanese buckwheat noodles in soup garnished with carrots, daikon, burdock and tofu. hearty and comforting, it’s already a hit with konscious’ customers and has been known to please even finicky young diners.

we just want to share what it means to eat well

creative collaborations the diversity of konscious’ offerings reflect the people who are running the cafe together with pamela, a motley bunch of creative talents that include animators, illustrators, designers, filmmakers, cinematographers, visual artists, photographers, a climbing wall builder, copywriter and public relations practitioner, with some of them wearing several hats at the same time. their backgrounds are just as varied: malaysians, japanese, a russian, maldivian and a couple of british nationals. some of them are based locally while others shuttle around, but everyone comes together as often as possible and contribute in different ways.

japanese-american jayce izumi, who is also a model and actor, conceptualised the menu together with pamela and heads the kitchen. the chargrilled chicken is among his specialties, packed full of flavour thanks to a secret marinate, and it also features in what he promises to be the best rice burge: an overflowing bed of the umami-rich chicken, lettuce and alfalfa snuggle between crisped rice patties and lays on a bamboo leaf that you can use to hold the burger, with a side of house-made beetroot pickled ginger.

kons banh mi
kons khao jam

former college mates and jills of many trades liyana azo and nadiah almahdaly painted a striking visual – originally the cafe’s logo – above the menu of a figure reclining against a gigantic lightbulb with gnarly roots and the words ‘prana food’. aswadi noor, who constructs climbing walls for camp5, took charge of utility details like the piping and lights. given the brief to do something artistic but not chaotic, he devised lamp shades out of nada’s old foot soak bowls and matched them with copper piping for an antique look that’s in line with the rest of the decor.

other members of the collective are mohamed sathom, rusyam sopian, maxim emelynov, kai yokoyama, christopher tsuji, june tan, thomas buttery and tom price. “we first formed an animation and production company called 100 monkeys,” explains pamela, who is also a filmmaker specialising in travel documentaries. “as independent artists, we struggle to get funding for our projects while having a free hand to do what we want. that was why we decided to set up konscious cafe on a cooperative basis.”

the plan is to grow a chain of konscious cafes, with each person in the group owning one outlet in their respective corners of the globe. from this first outlet, 50% of the profit earned goes into maintaining it while the other 50% will be used to finance the second outlet, and it goes on and on. employees of the cafe will also eventually have the opportunity to call a konscious cafe their own.

in short, konscious is a channel to raise the financial backing that each of them needs to realise their individual vision and also serves as a platform to support the arts and the artistic, like themselves. “we conceptualised konscious to be a carefree place where people feel comfortable, get to meet like-minded folks and exchange ideas.”

kons ceiling

artists for artists the cafe’s decor supports that: an interior grey wall and the side exterior of the cafe both double up as canvases for displaying art or for it to be painted on, and will be refreshed every few months. to begin with, bristol artist kyle smart and jordanian sushii firash have been invited to showcase their works.

meanwhile, a large white circle on a smaller wall inside the cafe is meant for film projection, with screenings focusing on travel documentaries, awareness projects and smaller productions that are usually not shown at the cinemas.

while those projects are waiting to take off, konscious continues to refine their menu and will be working with a nutritionist to see how they can further amp up the healthy elements in their dishes. undoubtedly, the cafe is living up to their mantra of being ‘hippie, healthy, happy’ so the only other question that’s hanging in the air is their logo and signboard (the facade is bare at the moment except for the word incafe painted on a column, just look for clean pro laundry). “this is what happens when you have so many creative heads together,” pamela says with a laugh. “everyone has a different idea of what it should be!”

KONS FALAFEL burger
kons apple pie
kons juices

konscious cafe 10 jalan pju8/3a, damansara perdana, selangor tel +603 7710 0129 opens 8am-10pm daily;

UPDATE > konscious cafe has closed down at damansara perdana and will re-open at a different location, by oct 2015, where they will also have their own farm, boutique accommodation and a co-working space. follow us on facebook to receive updates and our upcoming review of the new konscious cafe.


 

this article first appeared in malay mail online and crave on 7 dec 2014

 

 

sarnies and such

having nourished us with their squeezed-upon-order fruit juices and wheatgrass shots for several years now, boost juice malaysia now wants to keep you on the healthy track with their new food concept, london sandwich co (lsc). much like the very popular pret a manger from london - that perhaps explains their name - lsc offers ready-to-go sandwiches, salads, yogurt cups, muesli bars and fresh fruits for a quick and easy complete meal for city folks who need to be on the move. salad pots will be added to the range soon.

there's a good variety of sandwiches, categorised by bread type: wholemeal, multigrain baguettes, multigrain bread, toasties and also children's choices. choice of fillings range from the familiar and loved - tuna mayo, smoked salmon, bblt (with beef bacon), cheese & tomato - to the more gourmet like prawn cocktail, the ploughmans (australian mature cheddar cheese with english branston pickle) and the londoner (like the previous, but with the addition of turkey ham). for vegetarians, the naked avocado should please as will the cheddar salad on baguette.

there's also a selection of pastries, including danish and brownies that are freshly baked on premise. wash it all down with espresso-based coffees. occasionally, they also stock fresh juices from boost.

IMG_4950.PNG
...promise of real honest food

we taste-tested the chicken avocado in artisanal multigrain, a hearty serving of fluffy bread holding together well-seasoned pulled roast chicken breast dressed in an english mustard mayonnaise and topped with tomatoes, basil, romaine and lollarossa lettuce.

all of their selections (except baked goods) are displayed in the chiller so you can simply pick, pay and go. sandwiches are wrapped in clear plastic that let you see exactly what you're getting, salads come in cardboard boxes while the toasties are sealed in brown paper bags - they'll reheat them for you. the packaging is simple and projects a clean, fresh image that's matches their promise of 'real honest food'.

concourse c-68, klcc opens 7.30am-10pm, mon-fri; 10am-10pm, sat-sun & public holidays facebook 

fluffy and fantastic

a son’s love for his mother’s cooking led him to setting up an eatery that is now three outlets-strong and where those in the know flock to for her specialty appam.

like a pretty doily about the size and shape of a small bowl punctuated by tiny craters, the appam is thin and crispy around the edges while its centre is thick yet soft like a chinese honeycomb cake. ever since i chanced upon this south indian ‘pancake’ at a food court that sits next to a manmade lake located a short drive from a pewter factory, it has become one of my favourite day starters. at this particular food stall, owned and run by a indian muslim family, the appam is made upon order and served with fresh coconut milk. the latter, creamy and slightly salty, enhances the aroma and mild sweetness of the former so you get a well balanced combination of textures and flavours in every mouthful.

“that’s my mother’s specialty,” owner mohammed khurshid told me with a smile. “even though we have three outlets now, she only helps out at this original stall and so the appam is only available here.” in fact, all of the dishes that are on the menu are his mother, mariam binti wan noor’s, recipes and the kind of food that khurshid grew up eating. when he thought of opening an eatery, naturally mum’s cooking came to mind. the location was an easy choice too – a stone’s throw away from their family home, so it’s easy for mariam to get to each morning. she’s usually there by 4.30am in her vibrant saree, cooking and prepping for the breakfast crowd.

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the appam is made upon order and served with fresh coconut milk

 there are typically two groups of customers who flock here each morning: the first batch arrives as early as 6am, after performing their morning prayers at the nearby mosque. the second is more varied and scattered throughout their opening hours (6am-12 noon) and include regulars from the surrounding housing areas, their neighbours as well as housewives after their daily rounds at the open-air street market around the corner, where stalls sell fresh produce and cooked food under shady trees.

besides appam, their stall is also popular for their namesake chapatti as well as thosai, idli, puri, vadai and sugee balls, and that’s just for the morning session; the stall re-opens in the evening (6pm-12 midnight) to offer more hearty fare like nasi briyani. the appam, however, is served for breakfast only and on busy days, they could run out by 10.30am or so. “many of our customers do come specifically for the appam,” khurshid revealed, adding that there are actually many variants of it, naming the famous nalla’s appa kadai in india as a good example of the limitless ingredients and combinations one can add to an appam. nalla’s, which has multiple branches across and outside of india, was where khurshid got his appam fix when he was away from home and studying in kodaikanal.

at his stall, he decided to offer just three styles of appam: biasa, telur and manis. what some customers don’t realise is that there are a number of options to those three variants. the appam manis, for example, can be made with either white or brown sugar. the appam telur can be made by either mixing an egg into the batter before frying (the resulting appam is extra fluffy and aromatic), or added later so that you essentially get an appam biasa cradling an over easy, its golden yolk still runny.

i asked mariam where she learnt to make this tamil nadu delicacy. “i’ve been making appam since i was a little girl, it’s something we always ate at home,” she answered while showing me how it’s done. the thick, milky batter – which contains coconut milk, rice flour, a bit of sugar, a pinch of salt and bicarbonate soda – is ladled onto a hot appachatti, small woks designed specifically for frying appam. she picked up the handles and carefully gave the little wok a twirl to ensure that the batter coated the entire surface. the wok is then covered and let to sit over a low fire for several minutes. the appam is done when the edges have browned slightly and the bubbles on the surface have reduced to indentations.

when it comes to the coconut milk, mariam is adamant that it must be fresh and squeezed by hand

eating it dipped in coconut milk is how mariam has always enjoyed it, but if you prefer a savoury twist to your appam, just ask for any of the curries (she cooks some 15 varieties or more daily) or try it with the coconut chutney that’s typically eaten with idli.  the easygoing mother and son are happy to meet customers’ requests. “tak ada hal (it’s not a problem),” as mariam is fond of saying. they are generous about it too; whenever i do a takeaway from their stall, i always end up with more than enough coconut milk, curries or chutneys for my appam.

when it comes to the coconut milk, mariam is adamant that it must be fresh and squeezed by hand. “itu paket punya santan, tak boleh pakai punya (packet coconut milk just does not cut it),” she insisted. freshness is, in fact, an important focus at their stall; besides making most dishes from scratch, cooking everything fresh daily and on premise, khurshid pointed out that their food contains no msg and that “it is also our aim to cater to diabetics and those who are watching their cholesterol level. we noticed that many of our customers tend to be in the over-40 age group and so are more health conscious and selective of what they eat.”

if you’re looking for something light and that’s not too sweet or oily, the appam will make an ideal meal. i enjoy it simply because it’s delicious and comforting as it reminds me of my childhood, when the appam was more easily available and done properly, not reduced to the paper-thin versions that are common at the pasar malam these days. i would be happy to eat mariam’s appam for every meal but am just as contented to start my days with it.

 

*want to breakfast on these pretty ‘doilies’? email me your secret eat at thisbunnyhops@gmail.com and i'll let you in on where to find this southern indian delight

this article first appeared in crave and the malay mail online on 13 july 2014

 

 

 

 

 

worth your salt(ed fish)

salted fish in a chinese-style bun? you bet.


if you’ve watched a certain hk drama series, you would have heard of this but if like us, you thought it was simply fiction, then you need to head to your nearest pasar malam. we spotted this during one of our rounds at the taman sri rampai market, held every thursday night.

the sign simply indicates ‘ham yue pau’ (salted fish bun) in chinese and that says it all. the buns, similar in size to a regular pau, are deep-fried to a golden brown and when you bite into it, immediately your nostrils will pick up that sharp, pungent aroma of salted fish. if you think it will be one very salty bun, rest assured it’s beautifully balanced out by the rest of the fillings – minced and slices of pork, crunchy jicama cubes and chinese chives – which are similar to that of a sang yuk pau. there’s also a hint of nam yue, that reddish fermented beancurd that is an acquired taste for many and well loved by others. we’re listing this under great market finds and can’t wait to go back for more.

mums know best

a cafe that serves healthy, wholesome meals the way mum would cook for you at home – because it’s run by six mothers who care

 

its punny name may indicate a cakery but for goodness cakes and while they do them pretty well, for goodness cakes is not just about the sweet and creamy. in fact, this 12-day-old cafe goes the opposite direction, making it their mission to dish up healthy, wholesome food that is made from scratch and freshly, on premise each day. here’s the most assuring thing: it’s managed and run by six mothers who would not serve their customers what they themselves would not eat, or feed their children with. the group used to run a home-based catering service and have a good repertoire of recipes under their belt, and one of the mothers was trained at le cordon bleu. 

 

french cuisine is thus not beyond them but for this cafe, they decided to keep to simple, honest, easy favourites like sandwiches – they make the breads themselves – soups, pies and daily specials such as roast chicken and pastas. on the day we visited, they had run out of roast chicken and was well into their second pot of pumpkin soup for the day. we had that as part of three options of set lunch and chose the grilled chicken on focaccia (you can also have it as a wrap) with a fizzy goodness (ice cream soda with a choice of pomegranate or apricot syrup) to wash it down and cool off on a ridiculously hot afternoon.

the pumpkin soup set us off on a great footing, creamy and silky and chock full of pure flavours. interestingly, they offer dried chilli flakes if you like a bit of spice in your soup. we added just a pinch and it did enhance the pumpkin, creating an interesting contrast to the natural sweetness.

while we waited for the sandwich, one of the mothers came by to ask if we would like a top up for the soup – note that refills are not actually part of the deal, but if it’s not a busy time they are happy to offer you extras. we like to think that it’s just mothers being mothers, always ready to impart their nurturing instincts on those they meet. we certainly felt taken care of by the warm, friendly ladies from the minute we stepped in. indeed, for goodness cakes has a laidback, homey vibe that’s supported by a play corner for young children and little touches like the use of colourful plastic glasses for drinking water (with lemon for a refreshing lift).

healthy, wholesome food
that is made from scratch

 

our sandwich arrived shortly afterwards, with a small serving of coral lettuce salad on the side – minimalist, fuss-free plating that supports their ethos of it all being about the good food and fresh ingredients. the focaccia was warm with a lightly toasted crust, its pillow-soft centre sandwiching pulled grilled chicken all held together with pesto. we could find no fault with it: the chicken was tender, well seasoned and moist, and the pesto tasted fresh.

it was a fulfilling meal yet we felt light afterwards, with room left for desserts. we had spied their very butter cake from the moment we stepped in, a pretty confection covered in pink rosette frosting. it was a tad sweet for us but the cake itself was lovely, soft and suitably buttery.

defying what is common cafe practice in the klang valley, for goodness cakes closes early (by 6.30pm) and does not operate on sundays – after all, the mothers need to spend time with their families and children. they are however, open to catering for special functions after hours and on sundays, for a minimum of 15-20 persons.

 

for goodness cakes 36g (ground floor), jalan 27/70a, desa sri hartamas, kl tel +603 6211 6782 opens 8am-6.30pm, mon-sat 

beautiful butter

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if you didn’t see them inside the cheese freezer, you could well have passed them off as soap but the oblong bars wrapped in wax paper have the words le beurre bordier printed across the top and they are what professional chefs, culinary critics and foodies have affectionately crowned the world’s best butters.

Silky smooth and unctuous, jean yves bordier’s artisanal produce is handmade in small batches and comes in a number of flavours. the smoked salt is subtle; lemon has just the right amount of zest for a citrus lift; espelette, an intense orange block with tiny red speckles, is savoury with a hint of heat. The standout is the yuzu, which presents one of the most enjoyable way to savour the popular japanese citrus. unwrap the nondescript bright yellow bar and immediately you will discern the tangy aroma. Slap a dot (yes, that's all you need, we promise) on a piece of toast, add a topping if you’d like – we tried it with some concentrated bacon jam – and the sharp flavour still cuts through.

 

available at jaya grocer, the intermark, jalan tun razak, kl price rm19.90 for each 125g bar

dining under the train tracks

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if sitting down for a meal right underneath the train tracks sounds like a trip for the adventurous, then wangsa maju must be adrenaline centre for the food-venturous. specifically, it is the open-air dining area of restoran desa setapak, a corner kopitiam that's been in existence way before the tracks were built. when the wangsa maju mrt station came about, the tracks just happen to run right across and above the stalls and dining table. if thailand's maeklong market can continue to exist with a train running right through it, what's a bit of train trundling above one's head? (which you can hear but not see when sitting underneath)

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on balmy nights, it's a very comfortable dining spot and you hardly notice the trains. a small tree stands right in the centre, its roots deep underneath the tarred surface and with tiny red lanterns hanging from its branches, provides a bit of ambience. mostly though, it's the white flourescent lights from the more than 20 stalls, the nonstop movement from hungry diners deciding what to eat, hardworking hawkers working their respective stations and their foreign workers delivering food to the eagerly waiting that make up this unique setting.

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food wise, the stalls serve the usual fare - a good variety of noodles, western grills, thai stirfries, popiah, lor bak and the ubiquitous chap fun. the latter, a stall that goes by the rather complicated name (and contrastingly, bare facebook page) of sabor'z familia, offers a daily spread of more than 100 dishes (fried stuff make up at least 15 of them), including some lovely curries and meat dishes. but it is their kaarage-style vegetable fritters that is worth mentioning. well seasoned and chock full of cabbage, onions, carrots and spring onions with an aromatic, crisped skin and moist centre. it's a great snack to have on its own too. for leafy greens though, the vegetarian stall next to it does a much better job of retaining the natural flavours without drowning the vegetables in starch-heavy sauces. 

one stand-out is the popiah stall, parked against a cement column in front of sabor'z. there's a minimum order of 2 pieces and a choice of three variants: regular popiah, salad popiah (with a coleslaw-like filling) and seaweed-wrapped popiah (your choice of either filling). the regular popiah is excellent, fat rolls filled with well-braised julienned jicama that still maintain a bit of bite, finely diced omelette and tofu. if you like your popiah basah really wet, ask them to ladle over some of the jicama broth over the rolls. 

 

restoran desa setapak jln 14/27b, desa setapak, kl opens daily; usual kopitiam hours, typically from around 8am till late, with different stalls opening for breakfast, lunch and dinner find it if you're driving, just look for the wangsa maju lrt station. turn left right after the station and you will be in the cluster of shops with parking out front; restoran desa setapak is on your right, facing the main road. some cars park along the main road. if going by lrt, disembark at the wangsa maju station. upon exiting the station, the first restaurant you will see is a mamak; restoran desa setapak is right opposite it.

same same, and some difference

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a rustic village made up of cosy little 'houses' constructed of recycled wood painted in pastel shades within which diners can sup on spicy, savoury thai cuisine and insta addicts will find plenty to point their smartphones at - such as the vintage cream fiat parked in front of the restrooms, a tuk-tuk of similar hue in the courtyard and a beautiful electric blue vespa at the entrance. each of the 'houses' sport a different colour scheme and are decorated individually. jerry cans and plastic fruit baskets are among the decorative items that add quirky touches to the rustic decor.

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this pretty much sums up bbq thai (says the menu) or thai street food, as emblazoned on the glowing purple cube at the front gate. And which is a misnomer; bbq thai is a proper sit-down restaurant owned and staffed by thais (mostly) offering authentic fare from our northern neighbour.

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seating is a choice between the festive al fresco courtyard under big plastic umbrellas, private dining rooms (a minimum charge applies) or if you're lucky, depending on your turn in the queue, you might get ushered into one of the air-conditioned 'houses' at no extra charge or minimum bill. open for dinner only, this kampung-style diner fills up quickly and on weekends, lines form throughout the night. It doesn't help that while the long tables in the courtyard can easily fit 8 diners, sharing is not allowed. If you come without reservations, you better arrive not hungry and with patience and time to spare.

even with a full house, the service was quick and efficient - even if not all of the mostly Thai staff can speak english - including the parking attendants, who will guide you to find a spot within the gravelly square that surrounds the restaurant. Double parking is common but their clever system involves taking down your mobile number and a friendly reminder to "I miss call you, you fastly come" should you be required to move your car or if a better spot opens up.

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highlights the unspoken rule as food enthusiasts know it is that a mostly young crowd signals less than stellar food, but bbq thai defies that with rich taste profiles and authentic flavours. The litmus test is always the tom yam of course: for rm22, you get a thai steamboat pot worth of appetisingly spicy, lightly creamy broth with chicken and oyster mushrooms. this is the Large portion and it's enough for at least four persons. for rm3 more, order the petai with prawns - sizeable, succulent prawns in a thick chilli-rich sauce with a balanced amount of pungent stinky beans that were still a tad crunchy, with an enjoyable (though an acquired taste for some) rawness to them. 

we also ordered kailan with crispy pork was a hit-and-miss in itself; the pork was crispy despite being drenched in the starchy sauce, which also drowned the kailan to a soggy, limp mess. The bbq cockles were overgrilled - none of the plump, bloody juiciness you want when you open up the ridged shells - although the green chilli dip that came with it packs a nice zesty punch. Desserts were just disappointing, the rice and coconut milk in the mango sticky rice lacked aroma while the mango was bland, while the coconut jelly were simply four rose-flavoured diamond squares with strips of coconut, served on a bed of fresh lettuce. Food for thought, indeed.

overall score for the good food, charming ambience and quick service - just don't bother with desserts and best to make reservations.

 

bbq thai no 17 lorong jugra off batu 3 1/4, jalan klang lama, KL tel +603 7981 9888 opens 5pm-1am daily www.bbqthai.com.my

find it from mid valley megamall, head towards jalan klang lama. you will see a coca steamboat restaurant (with its big neon sign glowing from afar) on your left. slow down, bbq thai is just ahead, at the foot of the pedestrian bridge. 

when you hanker for hakka food

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we can't say enough abt how much we adore this hakka dish of rice with a motley spread of blanched or lightly stir-fried vegetables (typically long beans, choi pou, cabbage, chinese leeks) accompanied by - make that drenched with, we say - a fragrant, herb-rich soup. hearty, healthy, vegetarian and oh-so wholesome. lui cha is often translated as thunder tea, but it actually means to grind. 

this popular dish is widely available, and one of our favourites is ye dumplings, a dumpling house and hakka restaurant.  this 17-year-old establishment is oddly located within an industrial area, surrounded by mechanics' workshops. it began as a dumplings (bachang)-only shop before expanding into a full-fledged hakka restaurant. the menu is fairly extensive, with a good variety of hearty hakka dishes including lui cha rice, yam abacus (shuin phun ci) and handmade noodles (pan mee). 

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where other lui cha tend to be a hefty portion, ye is smart in serving a smaller portion of rice which, when tossed with the 5-6 bowls of vegetables, makes for a suitable serving for one person. we love that theirs feature sayur manis, and the tea soup is highly fragrant with an aromatic nuttiness. the abacus, springy to the bite and well seasoned with a distinctive yam taste, comes with garnishings of minced meat and preserved vegetables while the pan mee is al dente and swims in a flavourful broth with a good amount of crispy fried ikan bilis. we also love their tong yuen, which comes in fours in a brackish ginger-rich syrup. bite into the bouncy balls and the aromatic black sesame filling oozes out.

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highlights their generously-filled bachangs are also excellent - the glutinous rice is cooked perfectly and there's ample amount of fillings in each, so much so you'd wish there's more rice than ingredients. there are more than 10 variants, ranging from the traditional (chau mai, or fried grains, with the usual pork, mushrooms, salted egg yolk, chestnut combo) and nyonya, to interesting fillings such as bamboo-smoked chicken, sambal heh bi and for the health-conscious, brown rice. the latter is the only disappointing one we have tried; the brown rice just doesn't have the right amount of starch to hold it together and disintegrates into what looks like a normal plate of rice after steaming. the must-but-we-have-yet-to-try is the colossal multi-flavour abalone king bachang (must be pre-ordered) that feeds eight and goes for rm268. now that is a real whopper.

 

ye traditional dumplings 8g jalan pandan jaya 3/9, pandan jaya, kl tel +603 9284 5325 opens 10am-11pm, mon-sat; 10am-7pm, sun & public hol  facebook

other outlets (named traditional recipe restaurant)

no 12-1 jalan pju 5/7, dataran sunway, kota damansara, pj tel +603 6141 8117  find it opposite the entrance to the food court

no 6 dynasty central, jalan kuchai maju 19 off jalan kuchai lama, kl tel +603 7982 2239

coffee + cheese cake

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more cafe than coffee bar, this three-month-old outfit is owned and run by community organiser and social activist (and president of human rights ngo, komas) tan jo hann and his japanese wife, kayo sunazawa. jo hann manages the kitchen while kayo handles the front of house, with the help of one staff, as well as the coffee machines. it's their first f&b outlet, motivated by a coffee-growing hill tribe the pair had met and worked with in indonesia through the course of their community work, who supply the organic beans that 5 cups takes pride in serving. so named because apparently research has found that 5 is the magic number when it comes to the maximum cups of joe one can have in a day without affecting one's health.

kayo, who is from the indigenous ainu tribe in hokkaido and has been living in malaysia for the last decade, contributes recipes from her hometown, including dishes she learnt from her mother, an ex-chef and restaurateur. the 5 cup signature, the hokkaido souffle cheese cake, however, is her own, perfected through years of baking.

located at the end of a quiet row in the still largely untenanted plaza damas 3, the simply-furnished 5 cups doesn't offer much in terms of ambience but the service is personable and friendly - if a bit slow, as jo hann manages the kitchen all by himself. and we had a couple of wrong orders, but the mistakes were quickly rectified. 

highlights  the panfried salmon with spaghetti in cream sauce was well-flavoured with pepper and chilli (you can select the level of spiciness) and enjoyable, though not flawless. the fish was oversalted but the skin was crisped to perfection. the pasta was softer than al dente but not mushy, while the sauce was creamy yet light. a good amount of shimeji mushrooms balanced out the carbs. 

we also enjoyed the grilled teriyaki chicken wrap, moist and tender slices of chicken layered over grated cheese and butterhead lettuce in a wholemeal tortilla. the menu actually described it as 'toasted' and with 'melted cheese'. it didn't come that way, but it was a satisfying, wholesome meal. the chicken is definitely, and rightly so, the star - well marinated, grilled and basted in their lovely homemade teriyaki sauce. the cheese gave it a mild salty boost.

we didn't take long to polish off kayo's souffle cheese cake, although we don't quite get the souffle reference - it's too dense to be one, and doesn't rise as one should. on the other hand, as a cheesecake it's on the lighter side with a spreadable texture, and is rich without being cloying. 

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we also tried the grilled teriyaki chicken salad, essentially the same chicken slices as the wrap, served with slices - yes, you can actually count how many - of lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes with a small bowl of lemon-olive oil dressing. the chicken is lovely, the dressing gives it a nice zesty lift but the salad is truly a misnomer. and to think we had actually ordered the just salad (sans chicken), but they got our order wrong. and that turned out to be a good thing, or else we would have been grazing like cows on a diet.

the coffee was hit and miss: we had no complaints over the long black, but the flat white fell flat. never mind that there was no coffee art to admire, there was also no micro-foam. it was, simply, a long black with milk poured over.   

overall for such a young and cosy outfit, hiccups are inevitable and the couple, along with their staff, make up for it with their friendly demeanour and good food - aside from the salad and the disappointing flat white, that is.

 

coffee 5 cups no b-0-17 plaza damas 3, jln sri hartamas 1, kl tel +603 6206 5451 opens 11am-7pm, tue-fri; 11am-9pm, sat-sun; closed mon coffee5cups.com/

find it coming off the pedestrian link bridge from hartamas shopping centre, turn left immediately and walk along the quiet row of shoplots facing the main road. 5 cups is right at the end. alternatively, from the ground level of plaza damas 3 (there are some outdoor parking lots on that level, and some just park along the side of the main road), take the lift at the end of the block and head up one floor and you will see 5 cups.

herbal healing

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their stall is really simple: a boxy stainless steel cart with the stall's name - cheah kin kee herbal tea - painted on the front, several small stacks of clean bowls on one side next to which the aunty places the packets of herbal tea. the powders are kept in nondescript plastic containers, the bitter tea is poured out from a large kettle. it's a straightforward, efficient set-up. customers stand around the stall, gulping down their brewed liquid of choice. you can drive up onto the pavement and park your car there. in a matter of minutes, you'll be off again, making way for other customers.

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the stall did brisk business during the five or so minutes we were there; the turnaround is, after all, really quick. customers walk up to the stall, place their order (bitter or sweet), the uncle serves it up in one of those typical, traditional china bowls with chicken motifs on the side, and most people just down it in one gulp. "stir the powder before drinking," he'll say. "yes it's being prepared, just need some time to get this ready you know," we heard him say to an impatient customer. meanwhile, aunty prepares plastic bags of tea for takeaway orders. a third person helps them clear and wash the bowls.

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the powder wasn't altogether bitter, it was more 'golden' as we would say in chinese - that tarty, slightly bitter with a hint of cool. the elderly couple basically sells just two types of tea: bitter and sweet. for the former, he will mix in a combination of three types of medicinal powders that are supposed to ease heatiness, soothe coughs and colds. you don't have to tell him what you want, he stirs in a portion size that he sees fit - apparently according to your size/height/gender? the sweet tea is quite delightful, rich in natural herbal flavours and perfect to wash away that 'golden' aftertaste of the bitter tea.

cheah kin kee herbal tea kerbside, jalan pasar, pudu, kl 

healthy pop art

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a dark pink lorry, with fabric dolls hanging from its front frame and soft printed cushions to lean against on its bench, sits against vibrant green and turquoise wall. it's certainly a memorable first impression, and for a moment you think it's a cafe for children but then you see that some adults have happily parked themselves on the lorry bench. never mind its cheerful palette and whimsical touches, fru-t-pop is meant for anyone who cares about what they're really putting into their stomachs and where the food comes from.

fru-t-pop's star product and namesake began as a mother's labour of kitchen love for her own brood: not wanting to feed her children the usual all-sugar, high-cream concoctions and yet not wanting to deprive them of icy treats, giselda parkin took to making her own popsicles, using fresh fruits sourced from local organic farms. then she started selling them at markets and bazaars, before turning part of the space that houses her central kitchen into this colourful, whimsical cafe that's all about healthy, freshly-prepared hot food made using organic ingredients from suppliers and farms in or near the klang valley. among them are top malaysian organic company justlife, titi eco farm in negeri sembilan, mr tan's of cameron highlands while the tempeh is homemade by a lady in seremban, who makes them for cancer patients and survivors. at fru-t-pop, it's all about using produce that do no harm to either mother earth or our bodies. like the three bold paintings that hang on their feature wall say: 'it's not what we put in, it's what we don't'.

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fru-t-pop's menu is fairly extensive, offering wholewheat wraps, salads, cakes (including raw cakes, all made by giselda), no-bake cookies, fresh fruit juices, coffees and teas, and of course those fun, fruity popsicles. besides the cafe, the fru-t-pops are available at six international schools in the klang valley. at the back of the menu is a series of unique recipes, many of them featuring tempeh (ever considered a tempeh smoothie?) and posters encouraging good nutrition and healthy eating. you can also purchase organic vegetables and fruits, delivered directly from the farms weekly. a list of available produce is displayed on the wall next to the cashier's counter, or you can order a pre-selected bag of mixed goods. 

with a background in niche catering when she was living in england and a keen interest in nutrition, giselda focused her menu on not only the produce that's available - which changes as organic production, unlike commercial farms, cannot promise a fixed type or amount as crops are vulnerable to environmental elements - but most importantly for diners, on creating good clean flavours . 

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the gado-gado illustrates that well: strips of cucumber, carrots and long beans - all raw, naturally sweet and crunchy - served with an aromatic, chunky peanut dip. from the globally-inspired wrap section, we tried the well-flavoured the greek, which had mashed chickpeas rolled up with almond cream and mixed vegetables. it came with a zesty, slightly spicy chilli-spinach-garlic dip and a beautiful salad of quinoa, fruits, cabbage and a generous sprinkle of toasted pine nuts. we didn't even bother with the passionfruit dressing as the reddish salad was perfectly fine on its own - crunchy and refreshing. we washed it down with a glass of joie de vie, a blend of orange, apple and spicy-with-a-nice-kick ginger.

everything is prepared freshly and made from scratch as much as possible in the small kitchen behind the pink truck, where the cook, kavitha, whips up hot dishes while her colleagues use the bigger kitchen behind to make fru-t-pops. kavitha is also the guardian and gardener in charge of fru-t's mini herb garden in front of the cafe, set up like a little park with wooden tables and seats shaded by a large umbrella. the herbs grow in pots placed around the seats and are fertilised with natural compost and kitchen wastes. kavitha harvests whatever herbs she needs for the dishes on the menu. and if you need any herbs for your own cooking, or to grow at home (ask and kavitha will share her tips), just take from the pots; giselda means for it to be a community service. 

farm-fresh vegetables and fruits, good flavours, fun and whimsical settings to chill out in and who can resist that huge pink truck? fru-t-pop is certainly doing us all a great service.


fru-t-pop 22-g jln sri hartamas 8, sri hartamas, kl tel +6010 213 5400 www.frutpop.com  facebook

spicing up a village

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for many of us, bacon is that all-important ingredient that makes or breaks a good breakfast fry-up. in the absence of this porcine treasure (in order to adhere to halal guidelines), instead of taking the easy way out and simply replace it with beef bacon as most diners tend to do, the owners of nutmeg - who also own bangsar village, and run this casual eatery with members of their family - decided to go a completely different route to offer all-day breakfasts that are satisfying while allowing them to maintain a menu that featured, as much as possible, ingredients that are made in house. and so it is that nutmeg's signature is a traditional breakfast favourite but one that is not often found in kl: gravlax. 

the salmon is cured on premise and is also available in paprika and lemongrass flavours. have them on their own as a tasting platter, or in dishes such as their big breakfast, croissant-wich (toasted croissant topped with scrambled eggs), eggs benedict or folded in an omelette.

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leading the kitchen is william chong,  who took a 12-month sabbatical from his teaching position at a vocational school in singapore to pursue his culinary passion while practising what he usually teaches - entrepreneurship. william's dedication to his craft is evident in the way he speaks of food as he patiently explains the menu. 

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for desserts, besides cakes and tarts, william is hoping to introduce kl's diners to puddings and he offers three different ones: lemon passionfruit, icky sticky date (with a butterscotch sauce) and chocolate. all the desserts are served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream each, a light and creamy concoction by a home-based supplier.  

another proudly house-made offering is the beef, cured for 10 days and then cooked in brine (a precious broth that they then use to braise cabbage) and sliced thinly or corned - although, you won't find the term 'corned beef' on the menu as the owners do not want to give the impression that it comes from a can. instead, it's known as salt beef hash the classic reuben is one of the best dishes to test out the beef: generous slices of the tender, pink meat nest under sauerkraut in between slices of rye bread. the sandwich is lightly toasted and served with well-crisped roasted potatoes, a simple green salad coated in a mixed berries dressing, and a dollop each of peach chutney with sultanas, and mustard.

for a sweet ending, choose from three chocolate options. we recommend the dark valrhona tart, beautifully complemented by the ice cream and a sprinkle of oats cobbler - a lovely balance of bitter-sweet flavours and 

nutmeg's menu may not be extensive but it offers interesting options. for one, all-day breakfasts are always a much welcomed (and lacking, in kl) dining option and especially when they are not just your run-of-the-mill toast and eggs variety.  with its open concept space and cosy, retro-inspired (mostly) wooden decor - punctuated by the whimsical avian paintings of local artist shah nizam, which are for sale, on the feature wall - nutmeg is certainly one of the best hangouts in the village.

 

nutmeg ug-28a bangsar village ii, bangsar tel +603 2201 3663 opens 11.30am-10pm daily facebook

tea house in the hills

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since the closing of the tea pot cafe in ss2 and the kl branch of cameron highlands' ye olde smokehouse, there hasn't been a good replacement where english style cafes are concerned. until miss ellie tea house that is, a family-run cosy nook located in a row of old shophouses - they've been around more than 30 years - deep inside taman melawati. a lush green residential area in the foot of melawati hill populated by wide roads and shady trees. it feels like the countryside, and it's all of 30 minutes from klcc. it may not seem like sharp business acumen to open an f&b outlet in such quiet surrounds, but miss ellie's english inclinations, with its cottage-style decor and menu, is actually very well placed here.

melbourne-trained pastry chef justine ong returned to kl after 10 years of working in hotels and even an oil rig, to open this seven-month-old gem of a place. his mother, nancy, runs the front of house, welcoming customers to what the family had aimed to be a homey sanctuary where people come to get away while tucking into scrumptious cakes and a spot of tea - and they have pulled it off impeccably. miss ellie oozes charm at every turn.

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push through the doors and the first thing you see is the sofa seating that could well be someone's living room. not surprisingly, guests have walked in asking if they should leave their shoes at the door! a motley selection of brics and bracs, including the family's personal collectibles, dress up the place. besides the main dining area, there is a cosy corner behind the display cabinet, with a small table that can seat three. if you're visiting solo, this is the ideal spot to hide away in. you'll be provided with a little bell to ring for service - a discreet, genteel way of getting attention without having to shout or wave madly.

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everything is made in house and from scratch, and even though justine faces challenges in staying true to recipes due to the unavailability of certain ingredients, that hasn't stopped him from crafting beautiful baked goods. 

cakes are displayed on stands under glass cloches, and placed on top of the dressers in the main area. chocolate chip red velvet, carrot walnut, flourless chocolate, passion fruit white chocolate and financiers are regularly available along with scones and their signature, the pandan panna cotta with gula melaka and fresh fruits. the pandan - harvested from the wild by jason himself - emits a wonderful aroma and while the panna cotta is perfection: wobbly but not slippery, it glides down the throat like a dream. the gula melaka syrup that it sits on matches its fairly thick consistency. tiny cubes of honeydew and halved strawberries balance out the sweetness. 

the lemon tart is another dessert we would go back for: zesty lemon custard encased in a crumbly pastry, with a layer of burnt sugar a la creme brulee and a dollop of blueberry compote to cut through the tartness. the textures complement each other very well, with the sugar layer adding a nice bit of crunch. scones are their other specialty, served fresh from the oven and in pairs of regular (studded with raisins) and wholemeal, with blueberry (usually strawberry) compote and cream. the gianduja is nutty-licious, as it should be. another plus point to miss ellie's cakes is the serving size - ideal for one person, and often leaves room for seconds.

what really got our tastebuds and toes tingling was the creme brulee. the evenly burnt sugar crust cracks into crunchy pieces, and shields a thick, silky custard. the two balance each other out in texture and flavour, mingling delightfully in the mouth. you will want to lick up every single bit of the filling. it comes with the same blueberry compote as the lemon tart and the scones, but in this case, is unnecessary.

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the hot food menu started off with just four items, led by spaghetti bolognese, nancy's recipe that she honed over the years and which has always been her children's favourite. the pasta, a little under al dente, is served in a beautiful twirled heap with a fairly generous amount of bolognese that smacks of homecooked flavours, and garnished with a single basil leaf - simple and straightforward, as comfort food should be. likewise the chicken parmigiana, two pieces of finely crumbed and well-crisped fillet served with a side salad. miss ellie has since expanded their hot menu to include classic british favourites with a twist, such as tikka shepherd's pie, lamb shank pot pie and tea-smoked salmon. the tikka is beautifully done, a small but substantial serving of well-spiced chicken pieces topped with gratin-style potatoes and a side salad.

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all of which are additional reasons to keep going back to this cosy and charming tea house in a quiet, leafy neighbourhood with the world's longest quartz ridge in the distance where the service is always cheerful, the cakes are beautiful and the ambience is soothing ambience. and miss ellie? that's the family's pet poodle, whose photograph takes pride of place on top one of the cabinets in the main dining area. we told you this place is charming.  

miss ellie tea house no 7 jalan h3, taman melawati, kl tel +603 4162 0113 opens 10am-7pm, tue-sat; closed sun-mon  www.missellieteahouse.com  facebook


franco fare

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croisette cafe is a quaint, authentic French cafe located within the cascadium condominium complex, one of Bangsar’s oldest residential towers. the owners, chef pierre m chaillou and his wife michelle soon, used to live there but since setting up the cafe two years ago, decided they did not want to work and live in the same place. after moving to malaysia, chef pierre supplied cakes to hotels and restaurants before the couple decided to set up shop. The cafe occupies a simple space by the swimming pool, with a seating capacity of around 30 pax – including a couple of small tables on the balcony that overlooks jalan penaga.

the layout is straightforward, the decor comprises white furniture punctuated by lime green tables. michelle attends to the front of house and does an amazing job, welcoming and personable in dealing with guests, right from the moment you call to book a table. while we looked through the menu, she patiently fielded questions and explained each dish (and the French names) in detail. in between serving guests, she also had a VIP to attend to: their five-month-old son, looking all angelic in his stroller.

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order the prawn bisque is more watery than creamy – as a bisque should be – and equally light on the shellfish flavour, but add that dollop of rouille (olive oil, garlic, chilli sauce and saffron blended into an orangey mayo-like cream) that’s served on a small piece of toast and the broth gets that needed lift. Although, the rouille doesn’t exactly melt into the bisque so you will see tiny blobs floating around.

during our visit, croisette was promoting their steak frites, australian rib eye in 150g portions (a good fill for lunch yet dainty enough for small appetites) served with hand-cut thick fries and a simple mesclun salad. A disc of herbed butter crowns the steak, melting all over it to add flavour – which is sadly lacking in the well cooked meat. Instead, the fries are the unexpected star of the dish: unsalted, so the natural tuber taste shines through.

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highlight french food is known for its simplicity and where pasta is concerned, a pesto-tossed dish is one of the most basic classics. except at a French restaurant, you get pistou – pesto minus the pine nuts – which, far from tasting like something’s missing, is actually more intense in flavour. croisette tosses thin linguine in a generous amount of the beautiful green mix and a good sprinkle of cheese, then tops it with a few oven-dried cherry tomatoes. compared to sundried tomatoes, these have a rich sweetness while staying juicy. The pasta was a little overcooked but the excellent pistou made up for it.

we also tried  the pumpkin veloute (cream of pumpkin) was thick and sweet, but fairly run of the mill. for desserts, croisette offers several types of cakes (they are mainly for pre-orders, whole, but a different selection is available per slice at the cafe each day) but it is their apple tart on thin crust that has a following. each tart is baked a la minute, so make sure to order yours along with the rest of your food or be patient with the 15-20 minutes’ wait. what you get is an ultra crispy rectangle of well-buttered pastry holding apple slices, accompanied by an earl grey and raspberry sauce, garnished with a boysenberry and strawberry. the earl grey cream takes the cake, but the tart falls short elsewhere: the pastry was burnt and overpowered by the butter, while the apples were sourish and dry.

overall  perhaps it was the big group of diners that threw the chef off on our visit, because this place has a lot of promise  and although not all of the dishesall pass the taste test, the food was properly prepared and well presented.  we're chalking this up for a revisit.

croisette cafe level 3, cascadium condominium, jalan penaga, bangsar, KL opens 11.45am-2pm and 6.45pm-9.45pm, tue-sun tel +6014 665 7944/+6014 970 7430/+6016 330 4477 Facebook


 *pistou is the French version of pesto, sans pine nuts but rather than tasting like something's missing, the lack of it actually makes the basil and garlic stand out more