KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 12 — Taman Desa has become a popular if unassuming destination for foodies over the past few years. Leading this trend is Sanuki Udon by Japanese izakaya king, Seiji Fujimoto. Since its launch in 2009 in the quiet Jalan Bukit Desa 5, more and more eateries have opened up in the neighbourhood.
Today Fujimoto’s udon shop has a full house for lunch every day (other than Monday when it’s closed), as more folks from outside the taman flock here for their mid-day meal. Here are five other worthy if under-rated lunch spots in Taman Desa… and what to order once you’re there:
Grilled mackerel rice at Await Café
Located on the second floor of a shoplot, Await Café has been serving residents with specialty coffee for the past three years. From hand drip coffee to single origin beans brewed using the siphon method, Await Café is the go-to place for a slow, relaxing time and cuppa.
What few other than regulars know, however, is that Await Café also serves a delicious, Japanese-inspired lunch of grilled mackerel rice. Owner and head barista Jane Lee loves saba shioyaki, the simple Japanese comfort food of mackerel (saba) grilled with salt and decided to have her own spin on it.
By oven-baking the salted mackerel in lieu of open grilling, Lee manages to create that recognisable crispy saba skin that’ll set your tastebuds off. The fish is drizzled with burnt garlic oil and served with Japanese rice, fresh vegetables, a wedge of lemon (indispensable to bring out the umami flavour of the fish) and pickles. Natural, light, nutritious and absolutely delicious.
Await Café: 9-1-5, Jalan 3/109F, Taman Danau Desa, Kuala Lumpur. Open Sun-Thu 11am-8pm; Fri-Sat 11am-11pm. Tel: 03-7971 0978. www.facebook.com/AwaitCafeKualaLumpur
Kuey chap at Moobaan Thai
The latest kid on the block (so to speak) on the Jalan Bukit Desa 5 row (already home to Red Kettle, Encore Patisserie and the aforementioned Sanuki Udon) is Thai street food eatery, Moobaan Thai. The usual suspects are here — pad Thai, som tam (spicy green papaya salad), tom yam (both a red seafood version and a clear pork version), Thai fried rice — and dished up by a cook from Chiang Rai, no less.
The true gem in this colourful restaurant is their kuey chap nam kon, our northern neighbour’s take on kway chap, a traditional Teochew noodle soup in braised meat broth. Moobaan Thai’s version is generous with the requisite pork parts — from pork belly with crackling to tender morsels of liver.
The flat, wide rice noodle rolls soak up the deep soy sauce flavours of the soup. Dried chilli flakes, fresh sliced chillies and fish sauce are all at hand as condiments of choice. Add a braised hard-boiled egg to this innard-rich dish and you have something that Grandma might have cooked (if she was Thai, that is).
Moobaan Thai: 15, Jalan Bukit Desa 5, Taman Bukit Desa, Kuala Lumpur. Open daily 12pm-3pm & 5:30pm-10pm. Tel: 016-312 3331.
Mixed rice at Tuck Tuck Tei
Restoran Tuck Tuck Tei, possibly the “greenest” coffee shop in Taman Desa with its canopy of large, mature trees, has been drawing crowds thanks to their chicken rice with a smile. Fans of 25-year-old chicken rice apprentice Ares Kuan are finding something else to cheer about — the mixed rice dishes available next to his sifu’s stall.
Mr Lee, Kuan’s quiet but amiable mentor, also oversees his brother’s mixed rice stall (the other Mr Lee is at the back, cooking in the kitchen). Regulars arrive as early as 10am for freshly-cooked items such as fried chicken drumsticks, stir-fried spinach with garlic, braised tofu and hard-boiled eggs, boiled chicken in wolfberry (kei chi) broth, and Chinese-style chicken curry.
You may add Mr Lee’s fabulous siew mei (roasted meats in Cantonese) to your dish of mixed rice. Pair your spicy brinjals with crispy roast chicken or jazz up your stir-fried long beans with sweet, caramelised char siew. Here’s a shop you can visit every day… and never eat the same thing twice!
Restoran Tuck Tuck Tei: 64A, Jalan Desa Bakti, Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur. Open daily 7am-3pm (except alternate Thu closed).
Ciabatta sandwich at Wild Sheep Chase
The sublime soufflé haven that is Wild Sheep Chase has become the must-visit dessert destination of the Klang Valley with their made-to-order sweet creations. Instagram fanatics have been posting creatively taken shots of the café’s signature soufflés, waffles and molten chocolate lava cakes since they opened just barely two months ago.
Yet the most addictive item on their menu isn’t really sweet at all. Using freshly-baked ciabatta bread, Wild Sheep Chase offers two types of savoury ciabatta sandwiches: one with ham and cheese; the other with smoked salmon and mascarpone. Both are served with a side of egg mayo and grilled vegetables.
Crusty and wholesome, the ciabatta bread is made in-house, a testament to owners Chris Yap and Sujian Khor’s insistence on only using the freshest ingredients. Add wide windows that let in plenty of natural light and small vases of fresh flowers, and you have an ambience that Kinfolk-style hipsters would envy and the most wonderful dining experience in the neighbourhood.
Wild Sheep Chase: 6-1, Jalan 1/109E, Desa Business Park, Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur. Open Tue 2pm-8pm; Wed-Sun 12pm-8pm; Mon closed. www.facebook.com/WildSheepChaseCafe
Tantanmen at Lao Jiu Lou
Is it any wonder that Seiji Fujimoto, who started Taman Desa’s izakaya trend with Sanuki Udon seven years ago, would also provide one of its best lunch options? The 45-year-old restaurateur from Yokohama wanted to bring casual Japanese dining from his hometown (where Japan’s largest Chinatown outlets are also located) to Malaysia and he did that with Lao Jiu Lou.
Designed like a traditional Chinese noodle house, Lao Jiu Lou (which means “Old Restaurant” in Chinese) serves fusion Chinese-Japanese dishes such as shoyu ramen (noodles in soy sauce broth), gyoza (pan-fried pork dumplings) and spiced roast pork.
The most under-rated dish on Fujimoto’s menu, though, is his childhood tantanmen. This is the Japanese version of the Chinese dandan mian, a spicy noodle dish from the Szechuan province. Springy ramen noodles are covered with a spicy broth, thick with ground peanuts, diced preserved vegetables, minced pork, Szechuan pepper and red chilli oil. The dish is topped with some bok choy (Chinese cabbage) and ajitama (flavoured egg).
When you’re done with the noodles and toppings, slurp the remaining soup up or add some white rice to create a sort of spicy congee. Trust me; you won’t want to waste a single drop.
Lao Jiu Lou, 25, Jalan Bukit Desa 5, Taman Bukit Desa, Kuala Lumpur. Open Tue-Sun 11:30am-3pm & 5:30pm-9:30pm; Mon closed. Tel: 03-7980 1464.