Friday, 4 December 2015

Chicken, Curry And Cheesecake At Charlie's

first published in The Malay Mail Online, 04 December 2015

My makan kaki got off the phone, relieved. It was raining that evening and we were stuck in traffic, en route to a new favourite stopover.

Would you believe that she'd called the place to get them to save her an order of chicken chop?

I would learn that the practice is not uncommon.

The homespun Charlie's Café serves some modest yet mouth-watering fare

In a rare instance of role reversal, I had introduced this place to Melody. My first visit to Charlie's Café at Taman Bukit Desa wasn't particularly memorable. The place looked like a canteen with its thin-legged, mostly plastic furniture, staffed with helpers in thin caps and, recently, even mouth guards.

But I had a good bowl of rich and spicy curry noodles with fishballs that broke up and bounced in a good way inside your mouth as you chewed.

The Sarawak laksa, with the painstakingly prepared #seafoodstock
that's good to the last drop. Unfortunately painstaking means it's
only available from Thursdays (last I heard) to Saturdays.

I sneaked back weeks later to find Sarawak laksa added to the menu. "Four hours of preparation #seafoodstock", a sign proclaimed.

Hashtags. Hashtags everywhere.

But the laksa was damn good. Shredded omelette, shredded chicken, more of those fishballs and prawns with a slightly translucent sheen, piled on thin rice noodles swimming in that fragrant, tasty deep-brown #seafoodstock. To ensure I emptied the bowl, I dropped by hungry.

That evening, we learnt the chicken chop was worth the phone call. The moment we showed more interest in the dish, the guy in charge (Sonny, not Charlie) began extolling the beauty of his chops and explained how he brines the chicken with herbs to make the meat tender, flavourful and juicy, and puts a lot of effort into the batter that coats it.

The chicken chop is apparently a crowd favourite

We were also regaled with the exquisiteness of the limited-edition "Harum Manis" mango cheesecake (made with Indonesian Harum Manis mangoes, apparently) and Musang King durian cheesecake.

The flavours of the fruits in both were subtle (maybe too subtle); as with the durian cheesecake, you don't see loads of mango within the cheese layer.

I've since learnt that Sonny was formerly a salesman—boy, did he pitch like a pro. As I understand it, no Charlies were involved in the setting-up of the café, though there might be one in the payroll.

The tom yam noodles also deserve special mention with its spicy and fragrant soup, as does the "ultimate" dry chicken noodle, which I reflexively called kolok mee (it isn't).

It's not kolok mee, but the Ultimate Dry Chicken Noodles will do in a pinch

We also liked their nasi lemak serai wangi, which I feel was best paired with the ayam goreng berempah. I think we sampled about half of what's on the menu by now.

What intrigued me the most was the claim that Charlie's is a social enterprise. Sonny told me he's making efforts to buy produce from Orang Asli communities in Malaysia for his dishes. No middlemen involved, he added; he will deal directly with the leaders of the indigenous people.

For now, he's getting several types of veggies and herbs like bunga kantan (torch ginger flower) from a place in Hulu Langat. Plus, something about flying in ikan bilis from Sabah. Logistics is a major problem, and Charlie's is still new, so this social enterprise thing is moving slowly.

Nasi lemak with ayam rempah goreng, a quintessential
Malaysian favourite done right

Another social aspect of the business is the Pay It Forward initiative. For RM5, patrons get a receipt they can stick on a corner of the café; each receipt is a voucher for a free meal the homeless and the poor can claim. But wouldn't it be a lot of work to climb up to Taman Bukit Desa for it?

In spite of its soup-kitchen vibe, Charlie's already has a following. This was Melody's third attempt at getting the chicken chop, as the dish had run out the first two times she's been there. The boss even classified his clientèle based on what they usually order.

He points out two Indian men sitting near the counter. "This fellow, he came here first," the boss said, adding that this patron orders clear soup stock, often without noodles. "Then he brought his friends, and one day some of his family members came with him."

As if we needed more proof that this unassuming café has some #awesome stuff.

Melody and I have been here so often we're starting to get bored, but we do keep Charlie's at the back of our minds. There's always something that snags our interest, like a cookie-shaped brownie that caught Melody's attention that evening and was sold out; all six remaining pieces were bought by one patron.

Charlie's Café
29, Jalan Bukit Desa 5
Taman Bukit Desa
58100 Kuala Lumpur


Mon-Sat: 11am-10pm

Closed on Sundays

+6012-816 0003

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