'Donburi' meets 'sambal': How KL's Three Guys Café creates fantastic fusion bowls of flavour

·5-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, July 5 — I love fusion flavours.

Proclamations of "authenticity” often irk me when it comes to food, when we have centuries upon centuries of different culinary influences parrying with one another, marrying and producing such exciting new cuisines.

Which is what you get, perhaps, with this loaded bowl of steamed white rice — topped with smoked duck and runny egg yolk, shrimp and crab stick, a drizzle of torched mentaiko (salted pollock roe) sauce and topped with bonito flakes.

What a bowl! What an explosion of flavours in every mouthful! This is the Okonomiyaki Seafood Don, one of the signature donburi bowls at Three Guys Café, an eatery located at KEDAI @ MAHSA Avenue in KL.

The Three Guys (left to right): Lawrence Yap, Hanson Kua and Edmund Cheah.
The Three Guys (left to right): Lawrence Yap, Hanson Kua and Edmund Cheah.

The Three Guys (left to right): Lawrence Yap, Hanson Kua and Edmund Cheah.

Edmund Cheah, one of the owners, shares, "This was inspired by a trip to Japan many years ago. Our local friend brought us to a local izakaya in Tokyo. It was our first time trying okonomiyaki with noodles and it was mind blowing with the layers of textures. We took the idea and switched it up with rice.”

The 44-year-old former banker is joined by his two partners — property agent Lawrence Yap, 38, and marketer Hanson Kua, 36.

Despite not having any professional experience in the F&B (food and beverage) industry, Cheah shares that they "wanted to start a café that serves good comfort food that all customers, regardless of age and religion, would come back to every day without feeling bored.”

Torching the 'mentaiko' sauce to complete the ATM (Avocado Tamagoyaki Mentaiko) Don.
Torching the 'mentaiko' sauce to complete the ATM (Avocado Tamagoyaki Mentaiko) Don.

Torching the 'mentaiko' sauce to complete the ATM (Avocado Tamagoyaki Mentaiko) Don.

One guiding principle, Cheah adds, "is to create a menu with a twist of different cuisines that differentiate ourselves from others, be it in flavour or food presentation.”

As a result, Japanese influenced donburi bowls feature greatly, albeit often with a fusion approach. The biggest seller is their Avocado Tamagoyaki Mentaiko Don, affectionately known as the ATM Don.

Yap explains, "Edmund is a tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette) fan, so he decided to add what he likes to eat to our menu. Our ATM Don comes with sliced fresh avocado and tamagoyaki topped with our own torched mentaiko sauce recipe. The combination of cold and well-seasoned avocado and flaming hot mentaiko-tamagoyaki creates an exceptional contrast.”

New kid on the block: The Three Guys Salmon Don.
New kid on the block: The Three Guys Salmon Don.

New kid on the block: The Three Guys Salmon Don.

A new kid on the block is Three Guy’s recently launched Salmon Don. Kua shares, "The dish is inspired by the traditional steamed fish. The fresh salmon fillet is pan seared to get a crispy skin and bathed with our own recipe steamed fish sauce which is made of bonito flakes and Japanese soy sauce.”

The fish comes with poached radish, various vegetable toppings, a bowl of Japanese rice and "kicap lemak manis” fried egg. Can’t get enough rice? The Three Guys have got you covered — the rice is refillable at no cost for this new dish.

Sounds thrilling thus far. But when the café first opened in March 2020 as a beverage bar, it was a bleaker story.

Before the trio could familiarise themselves with the business operation, the first lockdown was announced.

The interior of the café (left). Homemade XO 'sambal' (right).
The interior of the café (left). Homemade XO 'sambal' (right).

The interior of the café (left). Homemade XO 'sambal' (right).

Cheah recalls, "But it wasn’t a bad time to pause and think about the future based on the sheer understanding of our first two weeks of operation. During the lockdown, we weren’t stopping — instead we accelerated our food menu development and space expansion to cater for more diners.”

As such when the lockdown restrictions first eased, the trio now had a full business plan and were determined to invest further, to expand their store front and add a full menu to their repertoire.

Yap shares, "As beginners in F&B, we were customer oriented. We listen and take our customer feedback constructively — from separating the ice and drinks to avoid flavour dilution to printing notes to remind customers to eat the fresh avocado before it gets oxidised. Our customers appreciate even little details like handwritten delivery bags.”

Chicken Breast Don left) and Three Guys Chili Pasta (right).
Chicken Breast Don left) and Three Guys Chili Pasta (right).

Chicken Breast Don left) and Three Guys Chili Pasta (right).

Perusing the Three Guys menu, you’ll detect a clear inspiration of both the diverse food cultures in Malaysia as well as employing Japanese-centric ingredients such as onsen eggs, bonito flakes and mentaiko sauce.

Kua explains the thought process behind their recipe development: "As we all know, Malaysians love spice. Be it Malay style sambal and rempah, Chinese chilli oil and XO sauce, or Indian curry and spices. Hence we created our own sambal recipe made out of dried chillies, garlic, shallots, dried shrimp, sugar and Japanese soy sauces.”

This homemade XO style sambal sauce, if you will, is the backbone to a few dishes, including their bestselling Three Guys Chilli Pasta. Inspired by our local chilli pan mee, these oodles of pasta come with savoury crispy anchovies, a wobbly onsen egg and the aforementioned sambal, of course.

For health enthusiasts who are watching their weight, the Chicken Breast Don might appeal. Inspired by Hainanese chicken rice, this donburi pairs moist chicken rice with fragrant ginger oil and sea salt.

Signature drinks (left to right): Sparkling Yuzu Matcha, Strawberry Latte and Three Guys Latte.
Signature drinks (left to right): Sparkling Yuzu Matcha, Strawberry Latte and Three Guys Latte.

Signature drinks (left to right): Sparkling Yuzu Matcha, Strawberry Latte and Three Guys Latte.

Thirsty? Signature drinks include their refreshing Sparkling Yuzu Matcha, Strawberry Latte and Three Guys Latte — their version of Spanish latte, slightly sweetened with a dollop of silky cream on top.

Looks like there’s something for everyone, for every palate and preference. Or as Cheah repeats their motto, yet again and with just as much pep: "Our vision is to create delicious and unique comfort food that caters to all diners.”

Three Guys Café

Unit 2-14, Level 2, Block B, KEDAI @ MAHSA Avenue, Jalan Ilmu, KL

Open Tue-Sun 10:30am-6pm (Mon closed)

Tel: 010-430 9123

IG: instagram.com/threeguyskl/

FB: facebook.com/threeguysKL/

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