Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Balik Kampung To Oz Via This Yellow Brick Road

Uncharacteristically, I arrived first at Plaza Batai and turned the car into the sun-drenched parking lot. "Arrived," I WhatsApped my dining companions. "And it's crowded!"

Seems this Yellow Brick Road is a well-beaten path these days.

Yellow Brick Road and Wicked Pancake Parlour, on a more relaxed weekday

Opened by the brains behind The Red Beanbag at Publika, this site houses two places. Yellow Brick Road is where the brunches are, while the Wicked Pancake Parlour is upstairs - though that distinction disappears when a line forms outside the door and seats become scarce, as it did that Saturday around noon.

A few WhatsApp messages later, I put my name on the waiting list. The fifteen-minute wait was less torturous because of a light dim sum breakfast, but the girls, Sam and Wendy, were near famished.

Even though we finally had seats - upstairs - we waited a whole hour for our food to arrive. In the meantime, it was catch up, shoot the breeze and sample my latest batch of home-made shortbread. Sam had been to London and she'd brought back a packet of the same from Sainsbury's (SCOFF).

The flavours of the Malaysian heartland in the Balik Kampung dish
will make you do just that (photo by Sam Fong)

Having been here many times on her lunch breaks, Sam thought we'd all should have a go at this place, inspired by The Wizard of Oz and a symbol of the founders' journey in food, business and life. We had a tough time deciding what to order, to avoid having two of the same thing.

Plans for dessert were scrapped. We thought we could order that later, if we could still eat. Then the wait stretched for over half an hour. Who knows how much longer we'd have to wait after our food arrived, and by the time the sweets came we'd have digested our lunch.

Pulled Beef Benedict, with the kailan-like centrepiece (photo by Sam Fong)

Wendy decided to forgo the flat white, but not just because of the wait times. Though the overseer was a Malaysian Barista Champion, Sam didn't endorse the coffee. We took her advice; she was the snobbiest when it came to her cuppa. "If you want we can go to Sitka (next door) later."

I looked around. Don't think anybody heard that.

Whimsy seems to be the theme in the menu, from the names of the items. Wendy's Balik Kampung is a big plate of turmeric rice with mango kerabu, a poached egg and ayam percik covered in delicious percik gravy. The egg was overcooked, as the yolk had almost hardened, but she liked it.

Close-up of the Eggs Norwegian v2.0 (photo by Sam Fong)

Apart from the onion rings and cornflake-encrusted toast cradling the Hollandaise-covered poached eggs and slices of smoked salmon, nothing else set the Eggs Norwegian v2.0 from others of its ilk. I just wanted fish and eggs and everything else seemed run-of-the-mill to me that afternoon.

The flavour of Sam's Pulled Beef Benedict (which I didn't try), she said, was not as assertive as she'd expected. The broccolini stalk looked too much like kailan to her, which enhanced the Asian look of the dish. It looked yummy, at least: pulled beef with poached eggs on an English muffin.

Days later, The Impasta Returns! The marinated soya bean bits
take some getting used to.

But the Ginger Flower Beer with a bit of torch ginger was another story. One sip connected me to my Penang Nyonya roots.

Then, Wendy and Sam swapped dishes. Sam couldn't finish the rice, and she'd peeled the skin from the chicken. I had some, which is how I know it's delicious. The full plate might be too much for one to handle, however.

I guess the long wait time for the food and the crowded dining hall dimmed my enthusiasm for this place even more. And I'm too old and jaded to be piqued by cutely named menu items.

The Minimalist dish of pancakes with butter and maple syrup is wickedly
good - the way pancakes should be

Sure, I Wanna Be Kaya too by selling things like Drew Berry More and Sweet Mash of Mine, names of which are Oately Amusing. Since many caf├ęs opt for a similar Minimalist look, it's one way to stand out. But why no sign of the "Wicked 'Wich of the West" or "Corn in the USA (Uniformly Seasoned Amberjack)"?

However, I am pleased to learn they use coffee beans from Artisan and are selling chocolate from the Artisan offshoot, Seniman Kakao - another day, perhaps. And, as expected, things were much better on weekday evenings, like when I returned for the pancakes days later.

The chicken char siew of The Impasta Returns! (with exclamation mark) was moist and tender, not overly seasoned. But the marinated soya beans (macam taucu je) and what looked like tofu cubes were a little heavy on flavour.

And for something "minimalist" the plain pancakes with butter and grade A (medium amber, I think) maple syrup were wickedly good. For me, any place that serves the basic stuff near-flawlessly won't screw up their more elaborate offerings.

I guess, like the overused, oft-crowded thoroughfares of this city, this Yellow Brick Road isn't such a bad place during off-peak hours.

Yellow Brick Road & Wicked Pancake Parlour
8-7, Jalan Batai
50490 Kuala Lumpur


Daily, 9am-10pm
Kitchen closes from 4pm-6pm

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