Summer may be departing the city as we speak, but a heat wave of Southeast-Asian delights is descending upon us. The harmonious homemade delights combining herbs, spices and fresh produce bring forth the wonderful dishes brought by experienced chefs. With the goal of introducing authentic Singaporean and Malaysian dishes in mind, the new Café Malacca, housed within Kennedy Town's Trader's Hotel, is the latest mecca for a taste of Southeast Asia, where diners can enjoy traditional flavours that remind us of the regions with sunny climes.
With numerous favourites from Café Malacca's kitchen comes Sunny Tse, Café Malacca's Head Chef. With over 2 decades of experience under his belt at Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong, Chef Tse has mastered the essence of the Southeast Asian cuisine as well as the mastery and executes them with flying colours. Anticipating to the opening of Café Malacca, Chef Tse spent months researching locally in Malaysia and Singapore, sampling the best of the regions' local cuisines, distilling the essence of mastering them by incorporating age-old recipes and techniques he learned.
Café Malacca, being an all-day dining establishment at the Trader's Hotel, serves a two-part menu - an International selection of soups, mains, pastas, and snacks; as well as the regional cuisine that is meant to impress. The Kitchen whips up authentic regional favourites that are familiar to many by concept but not nearly by the real taste from the region. Such is the case of Satay, most commonly recognised dish from the region. While most know Satay by "Grilled meat on skewers", it is not only the meat that is important. A selection of meats are marinated in a mélange of fresh ginger, lemongrass and other spices and herbs until flavours penetrate into the meat. After the meat is skewered, it is cooked on even heat to guarantee a uniform crust developsed across the top and on all sides. The Satay is served with chunks of cucumbers and traditional rice cakes, followed by a fragrant sauce made from roasted peanuts, an absolute must to bring out the substance and flavours of the sauce.
Other favourites on the "Straits Delights" menu include "Rojak", a vegetable and fruit salad dressed with a Penang Prawn Paste sauce. The notable crunch of vegetables and fruits are further enhanced by extra crunchy Chinese cruller as well as a dressing made with Penang Prawn Paste, known best for its briny flavour and heady aroma, and further lightened with a tinge of special sweetness to the sauce itself. The "Singapore Otak-Otak" may look like a flat leaf parcel, but uncovering the leaf reveals a flat slice of fish paste, aromatic of the banana leaf. The fish paste, made with mackerel , is seasoned with galangal and lemongrass to ensure depth on the aroma and taste.
Noodles and Rice are main parts of the diet from Singapore and Malaysia. Café Malacca's "Penang Prawn Noodle" exemplifies the region's cuisine complexity. The noodle soup's base is made with prawn heads and shells, fried on a hot wok until fragrant. It is then mixed with pork bone as the base of the soup. The noodle base is a proportioned mixture of fresh egg noodles as well as rice vermicelli, the thick egg noodles and thin vermicelli contribute to a unique texture. Pairing with deep fried shallots and pork riblets, the noodle soup's flavour is further enhanced by the floating droplets of prawn oil rendered from the frying of prawn heads and shells. These coral droplets show a sense of intensity in both prawn aroma and flavour.
The "Penang Char Koay Teow" is no ordinary stir-fried flat rice noodle dish, although it may sound like so. Signature at most hawker vendors in Penang, Café Malacca's version is filled with sweet Chinese sausages, prawns, chives and bean sprouts. The flat rice noodles are ultra-thin with a full-blown rice flavour to it, as they, together with the bean sprouts, are specially sourced from the Penang Region. With the ingredients ready, the frying technique takes after that of the Penang Hawker style as well. All ingredients are neatly arranged in a single layer across the hot wok as they are half pan-fried and half stir-fried. The result of this technique ensures a caramelized flavor and crispy crust formsed around the edges of the rice noodles as well as a caramelized flavor in it as well.
Café Malacca's "Hainanese Chicken Rice" is a regional staple. Having adopted a free-range, leaner chicken for the dish, the chicken is deboned and immersed in a flavourful broth until the meat turns just tender. Timing is key when it comes to creating the perfect texture of the Hainanese chicken and Café Malacca is mastering the technique here. The chicken is dressed with a glaze made of sesame oil, scallion oil, soy sauce and the slightest pinch of sugar before it's served. The Rice, richly flavoured with galangal, garlic, and lemongrass, is fragrant throughout with just enough of chicken fat added in the cooking process.
The "Klang Bakut Teh", known to most as a rich combination of medicinal herbs and spices and pork bones, is for the generous addition of Angelica Sinesis, also as "Dong Quai". The slight woody aroma contributes to the rich pork flavour from the soup. Served with steamed rice and crispy Chinese cruller, the soup also contains liqorice root, which brings forth an interestingly cool sensation on the palate.
Drinks at Café Malacca are a colourful selection of drinks aiming to quench the thirst for novelty among diners and notable varieties include the "Lemongrass Drink", an iced concoction made with squiggly pandan -flavoured jelly, lemongrass-infused water as well as pandan syrup, all homemade here at the restaurant. The pandan-flavoured jelly is made with agar-agar, yielding a slightly chewy texture. The lemongrass and pandan flavours in the beverage matches well. The Bandung is a uniquely pink beverage made with milk and rose-syrup. A traditional favourite in Southeast Asia, this beverage bears the flavours crossing a rosy bouquet and an icy milkshake, with just enough of sugar to taste. It is served best after a spicy dish to rinse the palate with its floral qualities. Also outstanding from the menu is the Calamansi Drink. Calamansi is the tiny green citrus fruit that bears an orange flesh. The aroma is heady, fusing zesty lime with mellow orange and with a unique tropical tang. Yielding little ultra-tart juice from each fruit, the making of each order of the Calamansi Drink requires numerous calamansi fruits and to reduce the tartness, the addition of a dash of pandan-infused syrup is added.
With an open kitchen and dishes served on long tables under a casual informal setting, Café Malacca dishes up authentic Malaysian and Singaporean dishes that guarantee a culinary remembrance of the sunnier Asian regions. With the natural sunlight shining into the dining area, sampling a selection of the restaurant's dishes would remind one of the pleasant journey of the Straits.