Rise of the Red Beanbag
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 4 — Fancy having the Odd Cod for dinner? Maybe you prefer a quick bite of the Lamb-orghini, or the gastro-romance of Salmon & Delilah?
My suggestions for our evening meal have left my friend dumbfounded, but I assure him the food itself would not be quite as… odd. Unusual names aside, there is good eating to be had at one of the most unassuming all-day cafes in town.
It all started with New Year’s Day. For our first meal this year, my friends decided brunch at this caféthat almost no one had heard of was the way to go. Trying out new and untested dining places is a lot like life — there will be plenty of hits and misses. Still, what better spirit to ring in a fresh year than with optimism and hope?
Between bouts of gossip and raucous laughter, we managed to take in an enormous amount of food. We passed around a bowl of Japanese mushroom consommé, each taking a few spoonfuls of the wholesome clear broth.
There were plenty of eggs on the table — from Hollandaise-covered poached eggs with asparagus, mushrooms & smoked salmon to a hearty dish of baked eggs with lamb bratwurst, sun-dried tomatoes, potatoes & cheese — and thick slices of crusty bread to mop up all the yolky goodness.
From skyscraper-high stacks of fluffy pancakes drenched in maple syrup to burgers stuffed to the point of spilling with Portobello mushroom, buffalo mozzarella, rocket and tomatoes, we still cried out for more and more.
And of course, there was their classic French toast to end our search (had we been searching) for the ultimate French toast — fluffy and golden, topped with an addictive layer of toasted shaved almonds. We had found the perfect toast.
As we sank back gratefully into our cushioned seats and patted full bellies, our orders of espresso and caffè latte arrived without much fanfare.
We nursed our coffees and thanked Lady Luck for such a fortuitous beginning to a year of good eating and drinking. We may not have heard of The Red Beanbag before, but we foresaw, even without a crystal ball, many return visits in the months to come.
The brunchy bunch
These days, The Red Beanbag is one of the hottest spots in town for brunch, especially during the weekends. Miraculously, the Oz-style café managed to arrive at this without losing any of their warm, casual atmosphere or kooky charm.
Even when my friends and I have to wait for a table, we are always greeted with friendly smiles and heartfelt apologies by the ever-patient staff.
Some of their all-day breakfast standards like the classic French toast have become brunch must-haves. Others, such as their Eggs Atlantic, have been updated with an improved version 2.0 (using French toast instead of plain sliced bread).
Much of this success has got to do with resident head chef Ryan Cheah who is always hard at work tweaking his recipes and analysing customer feedback to come out with new menus.
The 26-year-old had previously worked at two of the top five Malaysian restaurants (the Miele Guide 2011/2012).
Under the supervision of different chefs and learning diversely different cuisines (Japanese, French, German and Malaysian), Chef Ryan developed his own style that is put to practice at The Red Beanbag.
It’s not only brunch that the Red Beanies (as the staff of the café call themselves, as do its most fervent admirers) excel in, though.
Chef Ryan and his kitchen crew have recently launched their latest dinner menu.
My dining companion and I decided on a poultry affair: He tried the Leeky Duck, which featured tender slices of smoked duck breast, served with leek & duck broth on a bed of spaghettini, while I feasted on the guffaw-worthy Fowl Luck, a satisfying assembly of roasted chicken thigh with herbed potatoes, mushrooms, olives & mushroom gravy.
Two thumbs up!
Global goes local
Consider this newly converted Red Beanie hooked: I return on subsequent visits with different friends to try practically every item on their dinner menu, one quirkily-named dish at a time.
My best friend and I had dinner here before her work-related move to South Africa. My Don Scallopino (seaweed risotto served with seared scallops & seafood) felt like fine comfort food; while she had the My Crustacean Cousin (tiger prawns, scallops and pipi shellfish served with freshly pressed tagliolini). Tasting both dishes, she observed it wouldn’t only be local food that she would be missing once she leaves Malaysia for the next couple of years.
I share this little anecdote the next time I have a chance to chat with Chef Ryan, which brings an amused, but pleased, smile to his face. He tells me he believes that food does not have to be purely Malaysian in order to be local.
“When I first picked up French cuisine, it was with a Japanese twist to it. That caused me to want to learn pure Japanese cuisine next.
“After that, I realised the important thing is to use the freshest and most sustainable ingredients rather than simply the most expensive stuff.
“The challenge lies in learning how to best use them and to match the different flavours and textures.”
Starting from scratch
Chef Ryan has a tattoo of The Red Beanbag logo on his right forearm and I’ve always been curious about it. Apparently, he had it done before the café even opened. What if restaurant was unsuccessful? Wouldn’t the tattoo be a frightful (and permanent) reminder of his failure?
“Not really. I don’t believe in absolute failure,” he replied.
“Let’s say, I needed 10 out of 10 points to learn how to start a kitchen from scratch. Even if it didn’t work out, I would not have to start at zero with my next venture, but maybe at four, or five points? I would have earned some points and learned something.”
The young chef obviously believes in putting in his best with any endeavour, and his philosophy serves as an inspiration for the rest of his crew and the Red Beanies.
Back to basics
As my friends and I wind down our evening by sharing a generous slice of Red Velvet cake and a Nutty Professor (thick chocolate mousse with nuts served in an espresso cup, topped with cappuccino-like froth), we get philosophical too and wonder what a suitable motto for the Red Beanies might be.
One suggests, “Eat lots of good food. Then good coffee. Repeat.”
Not a bad idea. How about another caffè latte, then, fellow Red Beanies?
The Red Beanbag
Lot A4-1-8, Solaris Dutamas, Jalan Dutamas 1, 50480 Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03-6211 5116. Open Tue – Fri 10:00am – 10:00pm; Sat & Sun 9:30am – 10:00pm; closed Mondays. Website: http://www.facebook.com/theredbeanbag/
* Kenny is a happy Red Beanie; how about you? Read more of his musings at http://lifeforbeginners.com