KUALA LUMPUR, May 7 — Finding a good French toast is like finding a lover in a city that hasn’t seen many good ones. You want one that is sweet and gentle to the touch yet also have that something special that will pleasantly surprise you.
To the uninitiated, KL is a city of all-day big breakfasts and fry-ups, a town where you’d have better luck with kaya-and-butter toast than with a classic pain perdu (what the French call their French toast).
I’ve always liked a challenge.
So where does one begin to look for the best French toast in town? You could do worse than to start at The Red Beanbag, a charming Aussie-style café run by a home-grown brother-and-sister team at Solaris Dutamas. Already a popular brunch destination in less than half a year since opening, their Classic French Toast is certainly one of their more successful offerings.
Served with a side of strawberries and banana compote, the single slice of toast will take your breath away with its perfectly browned coat of crispy almond flakes. Drizzle a little maple syrup, slice, stab, bite, chew. Heavenly.
At the other end of Solaris Dutamas, if you take a plunge into the depths of Ben’s Independent Grocer and manage to avoid the endless happy distractions of artisanal goods and organic produce tempting you, lies S.Wine Café Deli. Perhaps a slightly more upmarket alternative to its sibling outlets Ben’s and Plan B, it’s also the only B.I.G. eatery to offer pork on its menu.
And it’s the pork factor that’s issuing the siren call here. Besides the roughly chopped bananas and generous splodge of peanut butter, it’s the sinful strands of apple-wood smoked bacon that place this pain perdu pile-up above the rest.
But who’s to say, where French toast is concerned, that the West has the best? Try some Hong Kong-style French toast (also known as sai toh-si in Cantonese, or “Western toast”) instead. Found in most char chan tengs (Hong Kong’s version of fast-food diners), Kim Gary comes closest to duplicating the real McCoy from the former British colony.
Imagine two slices of bread held together by a generous layer of peanut butter, then coated in a creamy egg and milk bath before being fried to a golden brown. Topped off with a pat of butter and absolutely swimming in a pool of the requisite golden syrup, this is not French toast for the faint-hearted.
The more health-conscious amongst us may want to head to Haven Café hidden in the green of Ampang Hilir. Their take on the French toast aims to ease the conscience. Made with free-range eggs and served with organic jam and raw honey from the rainforest, this may well be the environmentalist’s perfect breakfast!
It’s also the thickest and fluffiest French toast I’ve tried — you can’t go wrong with two huge slabs of bread stacked precariously on top of each other. The café is family-friendly too, with plenty of running space for children and the odd ball to bounce around.
There are times, of course, where being sensible with the calories and the waistline isn’t what you’re after. For a truly decadent experience, how about trying foie gras with your French toast? And perhaps the last place you would expect to find this breakfast stalwart paired in such a manner would be a Japanese restaurant.
Ten Japanese Fine Dining (also at Solaris Dutamas) serves their grilled foie gras marinated in Saikyo miso on top of a slice of vanilla French toast with blueberry sauce. (What a mouthful!) Sweet, savoury, creamy and strangely light (rich, yes, but not too heavy). Melt-in-your-mouth doesn’t even begin to describe the delicate contrast of flavours here.
From the basic to the ones loaded with plenty of extras (or “baggage”, as I understand the romantic term is), there are as many different French toasts to be had as there are lovers. But again, we are reminded, the good are but few. There is one for every mood and every taste.
What strikes my fancy the most right now is one that is simple but not dull, full of rustic charm but also lifted by a subtle eye for detail. Oddly enough it was the last place you’d expect to find French toast — it’s not even on the menu!
Artisan Roast in TTDI is known for their fanatical pursuit of good coffee (and an equally, if not more so, fanatic following). You might have seen some of the cakes and treats baked by head roaster Amirah or her mom on display. What you might not know is that they do offer freshly-made meals from their scratch kitchen — usually sandwiches. Just ask their chef Andrew nicely.
And very nicely is exactly how I asked. French toast not on the menu? Not a problem — Andrew whips a plate made with bread he baked himself the day before. The first time I had it there, he served it with a delectable banana compote and a side of cream spiked with orange zest. The next time I dropped by, he had run out of the compote but substituted it with some freshly sliced bananas and berry preserve.
“It’s not going to be the same the next time, is it?” I asked Andrew. “Probably not,” he replied. And that’s what we all want in a lover and a French toast — an element of surprise and delight.
Grab your knife and fork and tuck in, my friends.
The Red Beanbag
Lot A4-1-8, Solaris Dutamas, Jalan Dutamas 1, 50480 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (03-6211-5116). Open Tue – Fri (8.30am – 5pm); Sat & Sun (9.30am – 6pm); closed Mondays.
S.Wine Café Deli @ Ben’s Independent Grocer
Lot 1A, 83-95, Level UG1, Publika, Jalan Dutamas, 50480 Kuala Lumpur (Tel: 03-6209-1716).
Open 11am – 10pm weekdays, 9am – 10pm weekends.
12 Jalan Ampang Hilir, Kuala Lumpur (Tel: 03-4252-3100). Open daily from 9.30am to 9pm.
Hong Kong Kim Gary Restaurant
G(E)-005, Ground Floor, Mid Valley Megamall, Mid Valley City 59200 Kuala Lumpur (Tel: 03-2287-2778). Open daily 10am – 10pm. Other outlets can be found on their website.
Ten Japanese Fine Dining
D5-G3-5, Solaris Dutamas, No.1, Jalan Dutamas 1, Kuala Lumpur (Tel: 03-6211-9910). Open for lunch Tue – Fri (12pm – 2.:30pm) and dinner Tue – Sun (6pm – 10pm); closed Mondays.
Artisan Roast Kuala Lumpur
4 Lorong Rahim Kajai 14, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, 60000 Kuala Lumpur (Tel: 03-7733-6397). Open Mon - Fri (8am - 12am); Sat - Sun 9am - 12am.
* Kenny believes the best French toast is made with love. Why not make some for your loved ones today? Read more of his musings on food, travel and life at Life for Beginners.