The Cafe @ Embun, Janda Baik

November 14, 2019

Set amid the rolling hills of Janda Baik, The Cafe at Embun Luxury Villas could be the lushest, loveliest setting for a meal within less than a hour's drive from KLCC, a rainforest retreat from the concrete jungle.

Embun Luxury Villas recently celebrated its first-year anniversary, so it's still a relatively undiscovered gem - while this is a fine sanctuary for staycations, it's worth heading here simply for the cafe, a beautiful backdrop for both lunch and dinner. Visiting the restaurant is a literal breath of fresh air, as the soothing serenity of this space helps to melt away the stresses of a city that now seems a distant memory.

If you love nature, you'll adore The Cafe @ Embun (fun fact: the resort is named after its founder's mother). Sounds of woodpeckers and other wild birds gently punctuate the stillness, while the pathway to the restaurant is lined with ponds of lively swimming koi, their vibrant colours glinting in the fresh water. A pool stretches toward misty, foliage-clad horizons, while the resort's own carefully cultivated plants - everything from mangosteen, durian, ciku and chilli trees to herb shrubs like torch ginger and water celery - promise a leafy panorama wherever you look.

With a scene like this, it's no surprise that the cafe's cooking sparkles with vivacious spirit. Perak-born chef Razman Rashid channels more than two decades of professional experience into a menu that glides seamlessly from East to West, focusing on fresh, seasonal ingredients, sourced whenever possible from local suppliers nearby. Many of the staff members are also from Janda Baik, ensuring an authentically local flavour in the entire experience, which begins with welcome beverages, revitalisingly laced with pandan and lemongrass, and complimentary snacks of crunchy fish crackers with sweet-sour-spicy chilli sauce. It's the ideal start to ease us into an idyllic state of mind.

Since the cafe harvests its own spinach, mint and other produce from its vegetable patches, it makes sense to order a salad here - the kitchen's recommendation is the crispy duck and mango salad, a medley of savoury and sweet, made textured with a tossing of tempeh, peanuts and spring onions, rounded out with a mellow lime dressing for the taste of springtime in a setting of perpetual summer (RM26). If you prefer a spicier, unmistakably Malaysian kick to jump-start your exploration, try the lempeng, Janda Baik-style, the local pancake treat bolstered by the punch of a briny, anchovy-filled sambal hijau and a full-bodied traditional ulam kerisik (RM15). Both of these are available on the weekend brunch selection (11am-3pm, on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays).

For fans of cherished Malaysian classics, the should-order is the patin tempoyak (RM25), catfish caught from Pahang's rivers, cooked with durian puree, turmeric, coriander and cili padi - the fish is ravishingly sweet and smooth, a triumphant testament to the kitchen's skills, while the sauce is addictively sultry (a cross between Pahang and Perak preparations, with more red chillies in line with the latter), perfectly coupled with a steamed rice platter.

Ultimately, there's something for everyone here, from Penang's own laksa, brimming with George Town's soulful dynamics (RM20), to an Australian rib eye steak sandwich, bursting with thick-sliced, medium-rare beef, layered with aged cheddar and caramelised onions, completed with crinkle-cut fries and a salad for all the hearty nourishment you'll need (RM35).

We wrapped up with coconut panna cotta, crowned with juicy fruits and crisp rice puffs (RM15), but there's much, much more to investigate on the menu - from cream of carrot and cumin soup to Embun's garden pesto pasta on the all-day-dining repertoire to a vegetarian menu that's available everyday, spanning a meat-free mee kolok to a house-made beetroot patty burger.

Many thanks to Embun Luxury Villas for a very pleasant escape.

The Cafe @ Embun

Embun Luxury Villas, Lot 6250 & 6252, Hulu Sum Sum, Kampung Janda Baik, Bentong, 28750 Pahang.

Open Mon-Fri, 12pm-3pm, 6pm-930pm; Sat-Sun, 11am-3pm, 6pm-930pm.

Tel: 09-233-0376 or 09-233-0396 or [email protected] (note that customers are required to reserve their table at least a day in advance)

Find out more at: www.embunvillas.com