Thursday, 1 December 2011

Return To Joy Café

Has it been three years since I wrote about this place?

The astonishment isn't just because of the swift passage of time. What became a quiet Chinese café with a limited menu is now a restaurant with more offerings and a few home-made off-the-shelf items.

Something that tasted like meat floss is actually dehydrated shiitake mushroom. A dark mushroom sauce with a hearty, meaty flavour rivals the oyster sauce. A light-coloured sesame sauce, used in some of their dishes, is like a runnier, smoother version of the tahini.

Golden couple Dennis Ng and wife Joyce have continued with the culinary experiments that made me a regular (as I can be). Their special fried rice and their orange white coffee are still as tasty. They serve a good nasi lemak, though it's been months since I've had a plate.

Joy's mango yoghurt
Joy's mango yoghurt - sweet,
yellow and fragrant
Over a year ago, Dennis started making yoghurt. The first flavour remains my favourite: wheatgrass, with a dash of pandan for that herbal sweetness and fragrance. For a while, I was on a Joy yoghurt bender, buying from four to eight cups at a time. Joy Café has since added more flavours to its yoghurt range, including strawberry, roselle, soursop, guava and mango.

On my most recent visit, they were out of wheatgrass yoghurt. My deflated spirits were restored by the thick, sweet and florally fragrant mango yoghurt. One is advised to give it a stir before eating, presumably to smoothen the texture and activate the live cultures inside.

At RM2.90 a cup it's a little pricey, but you'll get the assurance of quality by a proud business owner who uses nothing but natural ingredients. Don't wanna eat your yoghurt? For RM6, you get a tall glass of a yoghurt drink in any of the flavours available at the place.

Joining the beef and lamb briskets, braised pork trotter and dry chicken curry on the menu is an otak-otak omelette, nice but a bit oily when I tried it months ago; a spicy, slightly sourish nyonya chicken with a curry-like sauce that had a tang of lemongrass; and batter-coated chicken or fish topped with their own sesame sauce. Most of these dishes come with a soup, a side of veggies, a sunny-side-up egg (whether the yolk is runny or cooked solid is the luck of the draw), and a choice of either rice or noodles. The special fried rice and nasi lemak are still there.

Picking dishes from such a selection can be difficult. After some time, my dinner companion settled on the nyonya chicken with rice, but I was still undecided. To my rescue was Joyce: "Want to try our new pork belly? We braise it in a sauce with Australian wine."

This surprised us. The menu is almost overflowing! Is there even room for another snack? But I loves me some pork belly, and I'm a sucker for new things. So I went for it.

Dinner Kaki's nyonya chicken had been a taste of home - as in, reminded me of my kampung in Penang. I was content to eat just the sauce with rice. Then, my dish arrived.

Joy's pork belly in red wine sauce
New at Joy Café: Pork belly in red wine sauce.
Nigella would be proud.

The slab of pork belly and its pool of red sauce dominated the dinner plate; all the sides seemed to shrink from its meaty majesty. And oh golly, it was good. Chewy tender skin, rich buttery fat and lovely meat. In a savoury sauce slightly fruity from the wine. All good with rice, a slice of bread, a mantou (plain Chinese bun), or perhaps mashed potatoes.

What started as a Father's Day special became a regular dish, at the behest of enamoured customers. A previous incarnation used spare ribs, but wasn't as successful. "It's Danish pork," Joyce said. I was sure they could recreate this dish with local pork and a RM30 wine.

Dinner Kaki ignored her dieting taboos and warned me to save her some of the leaner bits. Naturally, I chafed at that. This pork belly surprise was too good to share.

But the taste wasn't the pork belly's only bombshell. At RM13.90 it wasn't just a steal, it was plain Wall-Street-class plunder - never mind that we'd had a different pork belly dish elsewhere for the same amount. On the way home, we argued which was a better price, eventually settling for a figure between RM15.90 and RM18.90.

Outside Joy Café
For once, (some) truth in advertising

Outside Joy Café, a banner proclaimed the place as having "the best food in town". I wouldn't call it a boast; from what we've eaten so far, it's probably a simple statement.

22/06/2015   "Joy Café was located at 540, Jalan Riang 11, Happy Garden, 58200 Kuala Lumpur. It finally closed its doors for good around the end of April 2015. A Meng Kee wonton noodle shop (not sure if it's related to the one in Kuchai Lama) is now in its place.


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