Tuesday, 24 February 2015

My Overseas Union (Coffee) Garden

first published in The Malay Mail Online, 24 February 2015

Last year, when makan kaki Melody pointed out that PJ Section 17's marquee café Butter+Beans was opening a chain in my neck of the woods (now you know where I live), such was my disbelief that I had to see it for myself.

Butter+Beans' new branch at Overseas Union Garden, saving my
fuel money for more coffee

I've been in and out of this steeped-to-the-roots Chinese neighbourhood for years and I never thought Third Wave coffee would arrive here before all my hair turned white.

But Butter+Beans isn't the only Western-style café nearby.

The first to open was Doors Café, an offshoot of Doors Music + Tapas in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The weird murals of caffeinated three-eyed aliens and various doors of different colours lent more quirk to Doors, making it more of a hangout and a "chillax" joint.

I'm confident whatever they serve at Doors won't turn you into ... those

Melody and I returned for a peek after a huge dinner (elsewhere). Since I last visited, they've added lots of items on the menu: pastas, sandwiches, baked eggs... those kinds of things. Unfortunately, the kitchen closes at 6pm, so no dinners.

But the iced chocolate, with a scoop of chocolate ice cream, was still as good — and sweet — as the last time, and the coffee was just right.

Doors' all-day breakfast is particularly filling: puréed sweet potato (I think), pan-seared Russet potatoes with rosemary, two slices of toasted baguette, a pork sausage, two strips of bacon and some salad and sautéed mushrooms (no baked beans).

Several bar seats at the window now had headphones plugged into what look like prototype iPods, offering music in lieu of the food and beverages, but there's no indication of which unit plays what.

I picked one and switched it on according to the instructions and my ears were filled with Mandarin-language café music. In spite of the caffeine, I found myself getting sleepy.

It's enough to make me want to freelance and set up shop here.

The interior of Midsummer Night Café at Jalan Awan Hijau (same row as MyBurgerLab OUG) looks more like a schoolroom, with its desks and chairs of recycled and smoothed cream-hued wood. Seemed apt, considering the boss, Jon, was formerly a lecturer at a college. The chairs' thick seats are hollow, to house a magazine or book.

The interior of Midsummer Night Café

From what Jon said, what he used to teach has little to do with the décor. One wall was decorated with miniature versions of movie posters, most of which were of Hong Kong films. The selection is changed every couple of months.

Coasters, to prevent condensation from cold drinks staining the wood, are actually laminated screencaps from HK films, complete with lines from the depicted characters.

"Why tell people? It's fine as long as you're happy," goes Chow Yun-fat in An Autumn's Tale.

From its Facebook page, interior and overall feel, I thought this was more of a hangout for a Sinophone crowd.

When Jon started Midsummer Night, he was on the brink of quitting his day job and could, therefore, only open in the evenings on weekdays, hence the name. He heard the calling to do something for himself — and maybe other people — after teaching for years.

The menu features a small selection of beverages and several kinds of cake. Specials are written on a board near the counter. One item is called "Dream": frozen coffee cubes served with a pitcher of milk and gula melaka syrup.

The fine coffee and yummy iced chocolate at Doors Café (left); coasting
the afternoon away at Midsummer Night Café with Leslie Cheung and
some strong iced coffee

Another distinct feature was the lack of a voice like Pixie Lott's from the sound system, breathing lyrics about life, love and the universe. What patrons got — the day I was there, at least — was ambient sounds. Right now, it's rain with a bit of thunder, which does little to calm my nerves, jangled by my cold-brewed Colombian coffee with milk.

Four more glasses of lemon-flavoured water later, I feel much better but a bit out of place without a book or homework to occupy myself with. Maybe next time....

"Stop it," Melody chides, after I poke the bear-shaped bean bag (which I named Gilbert) for the umpteenth time while making what I thought were pitch-perfect bear grunts.

Don't feed the bear ... or poke him too much

Some days I prefer simple pleasures.

Then there's Butter+Beans' pastry selection.

We are back here again, weeks after our first couple of visits. Melody, a free-spirited freelancer who often works out of cafés — preferably with free wi-fi and conveniently placed power points — is smitten with her latest "office."

They even brought Food Foundry's famous mille feuilles here, on top of the salmon quiche, fig tart, the kaya and coconut danish (my favourite) and a selection of boulangerie loaves.

Finally, I thought, bona fide treats from a Western bakery and espresso-based coffee, all within walking distance.

So many choices, only one stomach. Oh, the agony.

For a while, the breads disappeared. "They didn't sell well," said the manager on duty. "So we stopped stocking them." But she also told me that the central bakery had shifted to bigger premises somewhere in Kuchai Lama, and we could place an order if we were hankering for a baguette.

Why here, of all places?

Yong, one of the partners who brought Butter+Beans to this part of KL, felt it was time for the Third Wave in coffee to arrive in this neighbourhood (ditto, Yong). "We didn't know about Doors when we picked this spot," he said.

Speaking to Melody, Ken, the other partner, divulged a need to do something more fulfilling than his high-flying job in the financial sector. He used the term "humanist", which delighted Melody no end.

And few things are more humanistic than caffeinating, feeding and bringing people together under one roof — preferably with free wi-fi and music.

Doors Café KL
No 51, Jalan Hujan,
Overseas Union Garden,
58200 Kuala Lumpur


Mon–Wed, Sun: 10am–10pm
Fri–Sat: 10am–12am

Closed on Thursdays

+603 7972 2779


Facebook page

Midsummer Night Café
36A, Jalan Awan Hijau,
Overseas Union Garden,
58200 Kuala Lumpur

Tue–Fri: 7pm–12am
Sat–Sun: 3pm–12am

Closed on Mondays

+603 7971 2345

Facebook page

Butter+Beans @ OUG
No 53, Jalan Hujan Rahmat 3
Taman Overseas Union
58200 Kuala Lumpur

Now the site of Chaplang Kafe


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