"Cuppacakes! They're small and twee and fills you with glee"
Sneer all you want at roadside burger stands. Every time I see one, my heart warms to see the usually young proprietors at good honest work instead of illegal racing, mugging and bumming out at shopping malls or Starbucks. Similarly uplifting are stories about young 'uns fresh out of college who are bucking trends in novel, out-of-the-box ways.
That was the one thing about +wondermilk that first struck me. The staff was barely-weaned babes who look like they just tossed off their graduation robes and mortars - and yet are exhibiting signs of eccentric, creative and flighty genius. Nothing about the exterior gives any hint of what lays inside.
Fairy-tale whimsy abounds in what looks like a refurbished living room. Bare brickwork. Tables with water-pipe legs. In a corner stands a glass-panelled cabinet with a selection that can be classified as boho grunge. No ornate faux-baroque inspirations ala Casa Impian. These kids are channelling Gauguin and Gaudi into a high-end final year art and design project along the edges of Damansara Uptown.
"Think of thick doorstep chips soggy with salt and vinegar"
How magnificent can a fish and chips place calling themselves ‘Magnificent’ be? Well, at this place, it can be pretty magnificent… expensive... but magnificent. For the KL expat-Brit missing his traditional stodge and fry-up, the MFCB is certainly the place for them.
Located amid the bustling and colourful eateries along Jalan Changkat Bukit Bintang, the MFCB offers fast, friendly service in a relaxed pub style environment. A cleaner and more cosmopolitan version of the British ‘Greasyspoon’ , the MFCB dishes up hearty portions of crunchy battered fresh fish – (choices include Dory, Barramundi, Cod and Salmon) complete with doorstep-thick chips. It even comes with a paper wrap lining to give it a more authentic look.
For added authenticity, you need to generously drizzle some vinegar and salt all over the fish and chips and wait a little until the chips at the bottom gets a bit soggy. Have them with the crunchy fish batter. Folks, do not confuse breadcrumbs for batter. Real fish and chips use batter. That's what makes it crunchy and British. Breadcrumbs just makes it Malaysian…. Anyway, cod or snapper is our favourite selection for fish. They do serve salmon but we don’t know whether this is a great fish for fish and chips because salmon is best cooked over low heat. We heard that a chef elsewhere actually cooked salmon at 39 degrees celcius and it worked. Theoretically then, does this means that you can have an bad fever and cook salmon on your belly? Well, the mind wonders…
"Bizzarely Porky's ice cream tastes like alcoholic cendol"
It’s time for us to pay homage to that cunning place of ribs, grilled goods and arguably the best jerk chicken in town. We are regulars as most of the clientele here and have never been disappointed by a meal here yet.
Checkers is a place where merry friends gather to gorge on all things grilled usually of the porcine persuasion. However we can never really get past Porky's Best so all the other piggy stuff will have to be another review. The menu changes on the whim of the cook or when interesting ingredients are available. Hence on any day you might have a mixed bag on the blackboard like Harry Trotter, Lord of the Ribs (which are baby back) and Roasted Pork Knuckles.
However, Checkers also do pastas, the infamous jerk chicken and lip smacking steak with a side of stinking rose. Stinking rose being the romantic name for garlic roasted in olive oil until the cloves faint off the stalk and dissolves in your mouth. Start off with the homemade limeade. This is served in jam jars and coffee jars and it’s very, very good to cut through all that luscious, cholesterol dripping fat.
Grab a plate of grilled squid while you are waiting. It’s good here, soft and thrown on the grill in between meats. If it’s not hot enough for you, they have a rather suspicious fiery red homemade chilli sauce called ‘After Death Sauce’. Yes, its hot enough to singe your nose hairs. However, in my humble opinion there’s no need for extra condiments as the marinades and sauces here are good to slurp on its own. Porky’s Best is still the ultimate house favourite. It’s two chunks of meaty ribs, rolled in the house marinade and grilled until blackened. It comes heaped on your plate with a side of mash and corn.
"Here they make gulai tempoyak like grandma used to make"
As a Perak-born girl, the predilection for tempoyak seems to be ingrained. I never really touched it as a child but somehow one day finding myself on a mat in a friend’s house in Sitiawan I was honing in to the sourish edgy gravy with the keenness of a heat seeking missile. And yes, patin is the perfect fish for this, soft flesh yielding hidden depths of flavour within the gulai. Corny, but to me gulai tempoyak tastes like coming home.
However, outside the realm of homecooks, gulai tempoyak is not necessarily well executed in eating shops. Until one day, I was driving to Grik for a hike in Belum and discovered Restaurant Tasik Raban, literally a restaurant in the middle of nowhere perched at the banks of a lake (that would be Lake Raban). Here they make gulai tempoyak like grandma used to make. All you need folks, is hot white rice slightly on the lembik (soft and squishy) side, lashings of gravy and a side of tongue tingling sambal belacan. And then to complete this, a light afternoon rain drumming across the lake during the meal.
Imagine my delight when they opened an Ipoh branch some time ago near the stadium. Pak Teh, the same guy who started the original shop, transported the same formula here- a specialisation in freshwater fishes and ancestral recipes. Forget about asking for the recipes here, it’s all strictly family only and even then you need talent to make it taste the same. Other than tempoyak, they have a huge ikan bakar counter, again with an emphasis on freshwater fishes like catfish, terubuk and temoleh (a rare fish but my dad will drop everything he’s doing and pop over here when they have it a supply). Apparently this is a nostalgic fish for those who grew up near Sungai Perak before the Japanese Occupation. Tasik Raban also do sea fishes like stingray and mackerel very, very well.
"The ABC is good with Maraschino cherries on top"
No one likes to wait in line when paying telephone bills or dealing with telco issues. Somehow you always find yourself paying bills at the hottest time of the day, feeling murderous, with no parking and having to deal with things beyond your control. However, next time get yourselves to the Titiwangsa branch and cool off with a superb bowl of rojak.
So the thing that makes this rojak addictive is the gravy. It's smooth and not chunky but don't be fooled by first appearances. The gravy is a dark golden colour and heavy with chilli and finely ground nuts. Now we know peanut loving people are in two camps, the smooth as butter camp and the chunky with texture camp. However we find both are in agreement with this rojak. There is such a thing as a near perfect rojak sauce, not too thick nor runny and filled with the essence of nuts and everything tasty. Hence the gravy-sauce here is smooth but with the depth and soul of a chunky diva.
But that is not all. Gravy alone does not merit a great rojak. Your plate will arrive with the usual freshly julienne cucumbers and jicama, deep fried tofu, whole boiled egg and the kueh. Kueh in a mamak rojak is the pasembur. At the very base level, kueh is a concoction of flour and onions. However the kueh here has coconut in it and they fry it crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Infact, it tastes like deep-fried meatballs, dense and so scrumptious when soaked in gravy. For a more satisfying bowl, ask for sotong (squid) on top.
"The cencaru is perfectly fried and really crispy outside"
Furniture shop? Restaurant? Furniture for sale? Cafe? These are the usual questions first timers have when they enter this place. But unmistakeably during dinner time, it is a restaurant and a busy buzzing one at that. The crowds that flock in are usually in search of good food, similar to what Mum used to make.
With a mixed fare of Malaysian, Nyonya and Portuguese dishes, the mere flicker of images in the menu can easily trigger your drool reflex. A well known favourite that everyone must have a go at is their Black Pepper Terung (Aubergines). These morsels are meticulously seared with black pepper, yet it is still very moist and succulent with every bite. The sweetness of the well cooked flesh of the terung is enhanced by the subtle deep spiciness of the grounded black pepper. Absolutely fabulous! Or it can just be the fact that aubergines are a favourite of mine. What comes next can definitely settle your sniffles in a licking. At first, the Deep Fried Cencaru (Torpedo Scad) with Chilli Padi (birds-eye chilli) Paste & Petai doesn't really look like it offers much. And here we are reminded of the phrase 'don't judge a book by it's cover' for it certainly blew our minds!
"Every bite of the pandan chicken was a juicy crunch"
As Malaysians, we all enjoy the usual Thai fare. But after awhile you realise that most Thai dishes loose its zing(!) when it arrives in Malaysia. However, ever so often you will find a place that still has its Thai roots in place while inserting a Malaysian twist to it. Ayuthai has been opened for over ten years, but only known to those who live nearby due to the nature of its location. It has a loyal following with their original customers now bringing their children here.
The setting does not differ all that much from any other Thai eatery. It has a makeshift bamboo roof over the counter and many hanging pictures showing Thai dishes (some of which you can't really pronounce). It’s a rule of thumb to try out a few signature dishes that deem a Thai place worthy of their name. Usually it's their Tom Yam and Pandan Chicken with an emphasis on their fish dishes such as Ikan Masak Tiga Rasa.
For starters their Tom Yam is excellent! Really delicious thick sauce not made with the store bought Tom Yam paste. You can actually taste the lemongrass, juicy sourness of the tangy lime, the bite of the kaffir lime leaves, heat from the chillies and some unidentified pounded spices. Why bother figuring it out? The soup itself is so good! And for those who are counting the floating prawns in the dish, well, I can assure you it is more than most places will willingly toss in there. And then the Pandan chicken arrived.