KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 28 — All over the Klang Valley, cafés are popping like corn kernels in a microwave oven; there’s seemingly no end to the boom. How many look like run-of-the-mill, cookie cutter cut-outs and how many are truly original looking though?
We scour the capital (and a couple of other towns) to uncover some inspiring café décor – from ingeniously re-purposed furniture and modes of transportation (including custom-order bicycles and a classic Volkswagen bus!) to eclectic “blast from the past” themes. Ready or not, here are some of the grooviest cafés around:
Back to school
Class is in attendance at École P, a back-to-school concept café run by former Taylor’s University hospitality coursemates Steven Heng and Ilrene Tee. The café’s moniker is a teasing mishmash – École means “school” in French while the P stands for “primary” – just like the décor itself.
The balcony has been transformed into a full-blown faux classroom, complete with a chalkboard (try solving the problems doodled on it, covering both math puzzles and friendship conundrums) and old school desks rescued from a primary school in Ipoh.
Unzip one of the colourful schoolbags to reveal pencil cases that hide cutlery cleverly. The menus arrive in the form of a brown cover buku latihan and there is even a mini-cafeteria crammed with canisters of snacks and junk food, including cotton candy in a plastic bag!
Beverage specialist Heng says, “When my partner and I were considering concepts for our café, we remembered how fun and carefree our childhood and school days had been. That gave us the idea of building École P around our ‘sekolah rendah’ memories.”
Truly, there’s no nostalgia like a time capsule message scrawled in correction fluid on these wooden school desks.
The sporty ’60s
“W” by Espresso Sporting Club is the next phase of cafés that marries the espresso and slow brew bar concept with fine dining. Besides the Japanese-French fusion cuisine and single origin brews, the main draw here is the 1960s sports theme.
Here, a classic table tennis table with its matte green surface and clean white lines doubles as a communal space for sharing meals and coffee. Glass beakers of all shapes and sizes alternate as tiny terrariums filled with leafy plants, cacti, soil and gravel. Croquet mallets and vintage racquets turn up here and there.
Owner and award-winning barista Chye Yuan Feng first started with Monsta Café in Nusa Bestari, so he’s an old hand at specialty coffee in Johor Bahru.
He says, “I was inspired by the American sporting clubs in the 1960s when people used to gather for ping-pong during weekends. Now we may no longer be playing ping-pong but the tables are used as a design element. We wanted to create a small space that reflects this sporty lifestyle where guests can enjoy both great coffee and food.”
Hidden in the hustle and bustle of Chinatown is Coffee Amo, run by former classmates Benjamin Chung and Kong Yuk Loong. Here, you will find vintage Chinese posters decorating the black walls alongside interesting doodles by Chung. Coffee Amo shares the same floor as the Petaling Street Art House, where local Chinese DJ Chong Keat Aun revives the old heydays of Chinatown.
Chung was an interior designer for 20 years while Kong does photography as a hobby; many of his beautiful shots of scenery cover the wall at Coffee Amo.
“I wanted to create an urban design where is it both modern and industrial. We use refurbished furniture such as cable drums for the table and used wood planks for the bar area. The fixtures and furnishings are modern while the environment is vintage,” says Chung.
Staying true to the original building structure, little changes are made that it feels like a flashback when you step into the café. With natural light streaming in from windows dating back to the 1940s, Coffee Amo is a great escape from the congestion of Chinatown.
Earthy and urban
Siblings Ierfan and Adam Azriff started Wood & Steel Coffee about a year ago based on their love for coffee making and interior design. Adam is the barista whereas Ierfan is in charge of the look and feel. The café exudes sleek, clean lines with an urban raw feel. Using materials like exposed bricks, wood, steel and cement, the café offers a simple yet comfortable atmosphere for customers.
“The café looks like my house actually. I was inspired by cafés I visited while travelling. I wanted to create something that can be easily accepted and a place that is authentic,” says Ierfan.
Ierfan selected an earthy theme, playing with natural colours such as the oak tones of the wood and black finish of the steel furnishings. Everything you see in the café can be purchased and because of that, the décor of the place changes every week.
The best thing about their family having a business in furniture and construction is that they can manufacture more stock if it’s been sold. Recently, a customer bought every item for sale in the café!
Mod in Malacca
If you are weary of the tourist hordes along Jonker Street in historical Malacca, try heading to the next street, the quieter and equally charming Jalan Tokong. Here you will find nestled in between shops selling joss sticks and hardware a one-of-a-kind café – one with a bright orange Volkswagen Classic Bus inside!
Mods Café is owned by barista and boutique coffee roaster Abert Khow. He says, “The idea for my café is derived from the mod culture of Britain during the early to mid-1960s. Take my Vespa scooter for example; that’s very typical of the mod style.”
Khow’s flower-powered Volkswagen van isn’t just for show. He and his crew can pull espresso shots inside the vehicle and brew coffee by hand at a slow bar in its rear. They even go on the road sometimes for events with this mobile coffee shop.
Collections of vinyl records and beer cans from around the world adorn the walls. With a vintage barber’s pole and the Union Jack flying proud, it feels like the invasion of the Beatles era all over again. Ready, steady, go!
Fancy taking a shower at a café? You can do that after a ride at The Grumpy Cyclist, a space for cycling enthusiasts and coffee lovers alike. The fitness vibes of Taman Tun Dr Ismail with its parks and running trails provide the right ambience; there’s even a bicycle “spa” here for you to work on your wheels!
The Grumpy Cyclist is the brainchild of avid road cyclist Alex Iskander Liew. He says, “When I cycled in Europe, I stopped by a lot of cafés in small towns. Meeting other cyclists and having cups of coffee together before continuing with my ride was a good way to learn more about the place, people and culture.”
So when Liew returned to Malaysia after working in London and Australia, he set out to open a cycle café that is not just restricted to cycling enthusiasts, but also for those who are interested to learn more but afraid to ask.
Since opening late last year, The Grumpy Cyclist has seen its community of regulars grow to include runners and triathletes, especially during weekends. Some families bring their children along so they can start the young ones on cycling as bicycles are also sold on order. This might be the healthiest café in town yet!
19M Jalan SS21/37, Damansara Utama, Petaling Jaya
Open Mon-Fri (except Thu closed) 11am-3pm & 6pm-10pm; Sat & Sun 11am-10pm
“W” by Espresso Sporting Club
CS01-12, Country Garden Danga Bay, Jalan Skudai, Johor Bahru
Open Sun-Thu 10am-10pm; Fri-Sat 10am-11pm
54, Jalan Sultan, Kuala Lumpur
Open daily 10am-9pm
Wood & Steel Coffee
33G, Jln PJU5/20E, The Strand, Kota Damansara, Petaling Jaya
Open Tue-Sun 9am-11pm except Fri 3pm-11pm; closed Mon
14, Jalan Tokong, Malacca
Open Thu-Tue 10am-6pm; Wed closed
The Grumpy Cyclist
36, Jalan Datuk Sulaiman, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur
Open Wed-Mon 8am-11pm; Tue closed