KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 6 — What looks like nasi lemak but isn’t, not quite?
At least not by the conventional definition of what we recognise as our nation’s favourite dish.
From a distance, it looks similar enough: the mound of coconut milk rice, the crunchy ikan bilis, the cucumber and sambal and of course the requisite egg.
Except the rendang here isn’t beef or chicken; it’s made from mock meat, cleverly disguised as shredded and succulent daging. The curry on the side isn’t Malaysian but Japanese style, with cubes of carrots and potato.
Almond croissant (left) and the helpful baristas (right).
Closer inspection reveals that the cucumber isn’t the roughly chopped variety but finely julienned and lightly pickled. The fried ikan bilis sport a batter that’s almost like tempura.
The fried groundnuts are... fried groundnuts. Sometimes you can’t improve on certain components: no nasi lemak, traditional or fancy or deconstructed would be the same without the kacang, yes?
This isn’t some high-falutin’ version of nasi lemak, however, but an honest representation of a shop’s raison d’être as well as the crew’s love of local fare.
The shop in question is Kews Pâtisserie, located along a crowded if secluded row of shophouses in Taman Desa, and their purpose is celebration of vegetarian cuisine, albeit with a caveat.
Matcha Crumble Cake.
Their menu isn’t strictly vegan; the presence of eggs (the telur mata kerbau atop their nasi lemak, for instance, in lieu of the usual slice of hard boiled egg) and dairy (butter used in their pastries and cakes, and milk in some of their beverages).
From what I can glean from the items listed on their menu, it’s more of a meatless vegetarian approach, with an additional eschewing of garlic and onions (unless the caramelisation of the latter in the Japanese curry is even subtler than my ability to detect).
Perhaps pescatarian too, given the presence of the ikan bilis. Unless these were mock anchovies — an absurdist substitution till we realise Chinese vegetarian cuisine has also given rise to mock roast goose, which are nothing like the real thing (more like slabs of crispy gluten) yet addictive all the same.
Kews Pâtisserie opened a couple years ago, yet another bakery-café in bread-and-pastry-hungry Taman Desa. Staying in this tree-lined neighbourhood can be a bucolic experience (though the rising numbers of high-density condominiums mar that environment somewhat) but watch out for your waistline!
Piccolo latte (left) and Biscoff Mochi danish (right).
I missed visiting the pâtisserie the first time round. Once the pandemic hit and the ensuing lockdowns began, the shop closed its doors and went on hiatus like so many other F&B (food and beverage) businesses.
So when Kews reopened this May, I didn’t notice at first and later, when I did, there were already so many other bakeries and cafés that were either also reopenings or new launches. The drive to create new coffee and pastry spaces for social influencers and digital nomads continues unabated.
It wasn’t until my best friend visited from Singapore that I finally had a chance to sample Kews’ offerings. She wanted caffeine and some quiet, and this was by far the least crowded shop along the row.
Which is a pity for Kews is a bit of a secret and a surprise, a haven for those who not only don’t mind slow food but embrace the notion.
Plenty of natural light flows inside the shop, delighting any food photographer.
No, I don’t mean the Slow Food movement that arose from Italy in response to the unrelenting march of fast food chains. I mean the food can be really slow... to arrive.
Perhaps it’s because we arrived the moment the shop opened and the baristas were still calibrating the espresso machine. Perhaps the toaster oven needed some warming up before the pastries could be placed inside.
It didn’t and doesn’t matter. The time it takes is the time you spend with your loved ones in conversation or with yourself, writing with a real pen in a real paper journal. It’s peaceful.
My bestie had the almond croissant and a long black; I had a flat white. The coffee was serviceable — the beans are supplied by Ghostbird Coffee Company; the roastery is at nearby Jalan Seputeh — though it was our catching up that we were truly focusing on.
When I dropped by on my own at a later date, the barista recommended the matcha crumble cake. It was dense and crumbly, not too sweet and tasted deeply grassy. Perfect with a hot matcha latte.
Another week, work to complete and desiring a different environment, I visited Kews again. This time I wanted a piccolo latte to properly wake me up; the barista suggested their Biscoff Mochi danish, which looked ordinary enough, until I bit into it and discovered the chewy glutinous rice cake inside.
Surprises and secrets. Kews is a gem of a pâtisserie, not because of any fine pastries or clockwork efficiency, but because it lulls you into slowing down and appreciating the mundane things in life.
Not all food needs to be fancy or fine, not all coffee needs to be specialty quality. We just need to enjoy what is before us, right now, and not wonder about what could have been.
33, Jalan Bukit Desa 5, Taman Bukit Desa, KL
Open Wed-Sun 11am-6pm (Mon & Tue closed)
Tel: 017-607 9254