May 27, 2018
By Aiman Azri
If you're transiting through Chinatown, check in at this new hub for travellers and locals alike, tucked below Mingle Hostel. It's a weathered space that's woven with history and heritage, authentically aged through the decades, its rustic allure bolstered by a menu bursting with cross-border inspirations that span the Middle East to Malaysia, London to Hong Kong.
Cafe 55 was initially conceived to give hostel guests a warm welcome, but it's also a hot spot for everyone seeking a slice of Chinatown charm and cool. Begin your exploration of the eclectic menu with tapas-style light bites, unveiled in dim sum bamboo baskets: The Fried Mantao packs plenty of Oriental-inflected flavours into tiny parcels comprising crisp buns stuffed with duck rillettes, scallions, sesame and hoisin sauce (RM12), while the Harissa Lamb Meatballs take the spice route, coupling rich, peppery dynamics with the uplift of a yogurt cucumber sauce (RM12).
All-day breakfasts mean the fun continues long into the afternoon. We love the 62°C Hainan Breakfast, a hybrid of a traditional Malaysian morning meal and a modern Melbourne brunch. Thick Hainanese-style toast is not only layered decadently with kaya and butter but also crowned with luscious slow-poached eggs, presented in a striking contemporary style spiked with creamy droplets of more kaya and the umami punch of a shoyu dressing. It completely captures the essence of a kopitiam staple while providing a refreshing revision to our grandparents' version of this recipe. Lots of bang for your buck at only RM10.
At first glance, the supremely hearty Big Breakfast might look like a safe, familiar sight, but it manages to bring a few surprises to the plate too, combining a jumbo chicken cheese sausage with (deep breath!) roasted field mushrooms, confit tomatoes and house-made yogurt with granola, plus a poached egg with shoyu dressing and pandan butter toast (RM25). If you're starving, this should be your order.
Cafe 55 might be one of KL's few eateries where you can have a celebratory salad. The Yee Sang Soba (RM35) is exactly what it sounds like, reinterpreting the Chinese New Year festive toss into a salad that you can savour all year round. You get smoked salmon, braised white radish, scallions and nori, heaped in little clumps with chilled buckwheat noodles - pour the shoyu sauce in, mix it all up and dig in (tossing optional!). Who says you can't have yee sang in May or June?
If you prefer a warm salad that's a bit lighter in portion size, the Prawn, Pumpkin and Quinoa Salad will serve you nicely, well-executed with arugula, heirloom tomatoes and roasted mushrooms for a no-complaints ensemble that'll reliably give you what it promises (RM 25).
Another offering that dives deep into KL's local culinary legacy is the Stir-Fried Duck Yam Cake - the classic yam cakes are purchased each morning from a couple who run a stall in Brickfields before being remixed here with beansprouts, chives, chilli peppers and spring onions, rounded out by the dark-meat dimensions of a duck ragout (RM 27). Again, we appreciate how the kitchen thoughtfully revamps something tried-and-tested to transform it into something unique and potentially riskier. Mains such as these are served with a complimentary honey lemon beverage during weekdays for lunch, 11am to 3pm.
A favourite among Mingle Hostel's European backpackers, the French-inspired Croque Monsieur is a solid, substantial interpretation of this calorie-laden sandwich, layered with chicken ham, Mornay sauce and more mozzarella that we've seen in a single sandwich (RM18). It'll stuff you silly, but it's irresistibly tasty.
Saving one of the biggest surprises for last: It's rare to see Banana Leaf Rice (RM24) in a restaurant that's not dedicated to South Indian delicacies, so it's a should-order here. Don't expect the typical rendition though - Cafe 55 prepares this platter with a claypot of chicken tikka masala, some cucumber yoghurt, an eggplant chickpea ragout and even a fried egg, so it's not exactly for purists. Still, we can't complain, since it's an interesting experiment nevertheless, worth evaluating on its own formidable merits.
Cafe 55 takes pride in a thoughtfully curated, meticulously crafted selection of smoothie bowls that make for a full meal on their own, each served in a genuine coconut husk, offering satisfyingly balanced flavours and textures in every wholesome, nutrition-rich spoonful.
The Peary-Peary Strawberry bottoms out with refreshing pears, strawberries, blueberries and almond flakes (RM 17), while the AÃ§ai Fantasy is a dreamy duet, split on one side with blended aÃ§ai berries and strawberries, and on the other with a heady combo of bananas and coconut milk (RM 21). If you'd like a little vice to accompany the virtues of your bowl, try the luxuriously chocolaty Cocoa Peanut Butter, powered by peanut butter, cocoa and avocados with sliced bananas (RM 20).
With a food menu like this, it's obvious that the kitchen steals the spotlight from beverages like lattes (RM12) and the Rehydrate (RM12; watermelon juice, coconut, lime and mint), but that's no attack on the competence of the bar.
Be sure to explore the corners of Cafe 55 - you'll find vintage ornaments galore, plus a small library with reasonable reads (from Ian Rankin to Tony Parsons), plus a space at the back that screens regional travel videos on a loop (travellers can even submit their own clips to be featured here; this section can also host events for some 50 persons).
Many thanks to Cafe 55 for having us.
55 Jalan Sultan, 50000 Kuala Lumpur.
Open Monday-Thursday, 8am-6pm; Friday-Sunday, 8am-10pm. Tel: 019-222-0262
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