"The tender lamb brisket has no salt in it"
My jaw hit the table with a thud.
"Not a grain," says Mr. Dennis Ng, of Joy Café, a place he runs with his wife, Joyce. "People from far away as Subang, Damansara, KL, Shah Alam all travel here for the food." The passion isn't just in their cooking; it's also in its preparation and serving. Their big bowls aren't for the portions, or for show - it's to prevent the waiters' thumbs from dipping into the food. Nor do the cooks grab noodles with their bare hands - each serving-sized portion is wrapped in plastic, to be used only when needed. And they're organic noodles.
This was only my second time in Joy Café. During the first time I had their toast bread and chicken curry. They also have it served with kaya and butter which you have to spread it on yourself. I also had the orange white coffee; it was my first encounter with the fruity variant of my favourite brew. The taste had me begging for more. Another interesting flavour is the blackcurrant white coffee- a full-bodied concoction with a blackcurrent taste. The menu of the months-old café is packed with the usual fare kopitiam fare: nasi lemak, "special fried rice, laksa with the addition of their braised dishes and a few other items. They also have brewed Chinese tea, and at least one dessert for each day of the week: double-boiled lotus root, red bean, etc - all served in a green-painted environment that instills a Zen-like calm while you wait. You wouldn't need to go anywhere else for breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner and supper.
I took another look at my half-eaten bowl of lamb brisket. Nice, tender chunks of lamb brisket (what else?), swimming in delicious brown gravy with a bevy of ginger and water chestnut slices. The gamey smell that gave it character was subtle enough not to offend. Such a flavourful dish - and no salt was involved? That's like hearing "no, there's no MSG in our kway teow soup".
"There is nothing so fine as a crusty, wicked soft bun soaked in gravy"
Subang's SS15 Asia Cafe is a diamond in the rough for stalls. One of the reasons people keep coming back is not only because it is a hot spot for those who crave a midnight snack or drink; it also has food that will have you craving for more.
The highlight of this place is actually a Crabulous (yes, that’s a Chillism
) stall situated just in the middle span, right at the corner hailing passers-by with a gi-normous poster of a crab with a deep-fried man-tao roll (sweet soft pao like dough) beside it. There’s a tank full of live mud crabs under the poster indicating that fresh seafood is just an order away.
Boasting competitive pricing for crabs in the Klang Valley, the Crabulous stall also provides choices on how you like your trusty crustaceans to be prepared. Ordering crabs can be counted by per-crab or per-kilo, which will then be cooked to perfection (not over cooked but just nice to savour the sweet fresh meat) to a flavour of your choice. For starters, there's the old Malaysian favourite Sweet & Sour crabs, which can give most crab restaurants a run for their money. The generous sauce not only entirely covers the crabs but gives you plenty of sauce to get your hands dirty with. We say order up the crispy deep-fried man tao. Crab places that do not serve man tao are often cursed by us because there is nothing so fine as a crust of a man tao circling wicked soft bun soaked silly in extra gravy.
This Crabulous stall has about seven other flavours to choose from other than Sweet & Sour like Chilli, Dried Fried Chillies, Buttered (with curry leaves) and Salted Egg Yolk with Butter. With all these flavours, even the highly allergic will keep their anti-histamines on the table so that they can thoroughly enjoy the crabs. Another popular choice here is the The Buttered Crab. It comes laden with gritty salted egg and creamy buttery sauce. Some people really like the saltiness and texture the salted egg provides. We’ve had better but no complaints on the gravy side. Again it's generous and goes ridiculously well with those cheeky man tao buns.
"Fed on Grain and Love. Yeehaw!"
I moved back here from the States about two years ago and from the moment my plane touched down I began the search for the perfect burger in KL. I craved a large juicy burger so tasty on it’s own that a sauce accompanying it would have been blasphemy. A fresh ground patty filled with meaty goodness grilled to medium-well perfection; the ultimate burger. Unfortunately this search was not an easy one. I endured many occasions of rubbery, dry, tasteless patties until one day I happened across Fogal Meat Market at Plaza Damas.
Fogal is an acronym for Fed on Grain and Love and this can accurately describe the meat available here. The cattle are shipped in from Australia live, fed on grains for a few months and are then sent off to a slaughterhouse. This way they are able to monitor the quality and freshness of the meat.
Owner, Cathy Appleby’s initial motive for opening up Fogal was the fact that she was having trouble finding western cuts of meat. Most supermarkets here offer pre-cut and packaged meat which makes it hard to find the specific cuts needed for certain dishes. At Fogal you can request for any type of cut; from a thick tenderloin steak for a barbecue to a butterflied leg of lamb for a roast. The butcher knows his meat and not only can he give you the cut you want, he can also tell you the best method for preparation. Need meat for stewing, sautéing, roasting, stir frying, broiling? You’ll find just what you are looking for. In addition to the butcher counter, Fogal also has a small restaurant area where you can enjoy a simple meal grilled to perfection.
"The first sip tickles you with flavour and creaminess"
Sipping rich Cham and crumbly soft roti bakar is the peak of happiness, especially if you add on two perfectly cooked half boiled eggs. Sublime is the word. To some, this might be a past time thoroughly enjoyed by our grandfathers as they watch the world go by over their cups of white coffee. However, the more I indulge in it the more I understand how precious old school kopitiams are.
People watching is interesting, but couple that with a pre-war structure and design that hasn’t changed for more than half a century, somehow you start drifting to another dimension and everything just tastes and feels better. Despite the vibrant and bustling atmosphere, the light floating scents of charcoal toasted bread intertwined with rich grounded home roasted coffee somehow makes this a laidback hangout.
Stepping into the premise, the urge to find a quick seat is suddenly essential. Ordering is fast while waiting is painfully aggravating. You are surrounded by spoons stirring, lips smacking, bread crumbling, egg cracking, forks colliding with spoons and the sound of people eating! The noise suddenly magnifies the wait suddenly, your tummies growl. Then clang! A froth-filled ceramic cup hits the wooden table and then it is just between you and your coffee. The first sip is so rich with flavours and full bodied creaminess that it trickles pleasure as it flows down into your tummy leaving a warm fuzzy feeling in its wake. Caffeiene buzz? Pfft.. I wave in dismissal. It is just pure simple pleasure that you get from a cuppa here.
"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.