Kam Kee Cafe, The Starling

August 12, 2020

Bringing an authentic taste of Hong Kong to the Klang Valley, Kam Kee Cafe channels the charm of a cha chaan teng experience in a collaboration between a family of Malaysians and Kam Kee Cafe Hong Kong, a respected Hong Kong F&B brand.

This venue in The Starling mall is the first overseas outpost of Kam Kee Cafe, whose branches span Wan Chai to Tsuen Wan - Kam Kee is the legacy of a Teochew native who came to Hong Kong in the 1950s and started a food shop a decade later, during that era's birth of Western-influenced, working-class cafes that serve affordable fare, from toasts to tarts. fried noodles to baked rice.

PJ's Kam Kee Cafe reflects a high level of attention to detail, not only in the quality of its offerings but the tableware and ambiance too. This airy space has become a magnet for customers, gracefully blending contemporary vibrancy with classic vibes from floor to ceiling - check out the old-school tiles, the Oriental turquoise lattice, and the rattan lamp shades.

But the true mouth-watering magic is made in the kitchen; even for those of us who typically have little interest in cha chaan teng cuisine, Kam Kee Cafe is worth exploring. This might be considered fast food, but it's fabulously fulfilling here - from the choice of ingredients to the care in cooking, Kam Kee Cafe is a credible destination for HK-style casual dining, especially at a time when travel to Hong Kong is impossible.

As we entered and left Kam Kee Cafe, we spotted shoppers purchasing polo buns, the pride of Kam Kee, prominently showcased counter-side at its entrance. Kam Kee's bakers come in at dawn daily, crafting a maximum of 200 buns throughout the morning and afternoon - before dinnertime, all the polo baos have typically been snapped up.

These are carbs at their most comforting, lightly sweet, soft to the chew, with a denser, crunchier bite toward the sugary-crust top that provides HK's pineapple buns with their nickname. Kam Kee's senior chefs and bakers spent a month in Hong Kong to study the brand's secrets, and the HK team also trained the staff in Malaysia when the cafe launched in January this year, so this is as close as it gets to a Shau Kei Wan breakfast or tea treat.

Each polo bun costs RM3.80, ideal for a fuss-free, take-home snack. If you're having it here, the selection of stuffings stretches from savoury to sweet, from luncheon meat to tuna and tomatoes and more to make it a polo burger. You can keep it simple too - the bun with a thick slice of butter (RM5.80) is our best bet, a playful perk-me-up with a dash of decadence that goes down smoothly. If your sweet tooth is calling, try the bun with a soothing scoop of homegrown Forty Licks ice cream (RM6.80; the flavour is usually vanilla or chocolate, but if you're fortunate, a limited-edition HK milk tea ice cream might be available).

Similar to Kam Kee Cafe in Hong Kong, the menu kicks off here with a list of Top 10 Signature Dishes. High on that is the Hong Kong Fried Hor Fun with Beef Slices (RM18.80; pork is available as a substitute) - the flat rice noodles are firm and slick, with a pleasing depth from wok-fired sultriness that blankets each mouthful, rounded out robustly with tender beef (Australian in origin, banishing the chewier buffalo meat passed off as beef elsewhere in KL). If you love soulful, smoky Asian hawker fare and street food, this is the dish to start with.

The Fried Rice with Diced Beef Tongue (RM18.80) is one more to bookmark for bovine cravings - the chunky morsels of clean-tasting, supple-textured Australian beef tongue both complements and contrasts with the gorgeous grains, seasoned to appetising effect with black pepper. For offal enthusiasts, the beef tongue offers a nice flavour boost, but even if tongue, liver and tripe are not up your alley, this is offal at its least offensive. Punch it up with Kam Kee's blended-from-scratch chilli oil, fine-tuned in true HK fashion, focusing on the pure intensity of the chillies without the distraction of garlic or localised elements like shrimp paste.

The personal favourite of Kam Kee's Malaysian show-runners is the Fried Instant Noodles with Pork Chop (RM17.80) - the noodles, lovely in their springiness, laced with XO sauce, are a young-at-heart delight for all generations, buoyed by juicy chunks of pork chop for a can't-fail crowd-rouser.

Our biggest surprise, though, is Cheese-Baked Tomato Pork Chop with Rice (RM18.80) - we expected this to be cloyingly greasy at first bite, then artificially sourish to the final chew. Instead, this is a flawlessly executed rendition of the recipe, marrying moreish mozzarella with luscious tomatoes beautifully, synergised with deboned meat and non-mushy rice for a steaming-hot indulgence that testifies to the kitchen's capabilities. Converted now into cheese-baked rice devotees, we'd happily return even for this on its own.

If you prefer something soupy, order the Ham with Macaroni in Borsch (RM15.80) - our inner child is thrilled by the spoonfuls of tube pasta submerged under the ham, while adults will be pleased to note the abundance of carrots, cabbage and celery in HK's version of no-beets borsch, a nourishing tomato broth made full-bodied with beef stock, a far cry from diluted-ketchup versions, best suited for rainy-evening sustenance.

While single-plate specialities might seem like Kam Kee's chief attraction, its forte also includes staples for sharing - its veteran Chinese chefs are in their fifties and have spent decades working with woks, so if you're here with a few family members or friends, sample several fundamentally Cantonese creations that keep customers coming back for more.

For a table of three or four people, order this Fab Four: Start with the scrambled eggs, whipped up with genuine HK flair, reasonably moist and creamy within, packed with plenty of plump stir-fried prawns (RM24.80). It has the added advantage of being made with free-range eggs sourced from trusted local markets (costing nearly double of regular eggs), yielding resonant yolky dynamics tinged with hints of chicken salt. It's not as heavy as butter-based scrambled eggs, but you can order some butter for this to make it a sinful sensation if you like.

We're also instant fans of the sweet-and-sour pork with pineapples (RM23.80), vinegared with restraint for a mellow liveliness. Kam Kee ensures the cornflour coating is light and crisp, so you taste more meat than batter for another surefire winner that does thorough justice to this all-timer. Best consumed on-site for sheer satisfaction.

Beef makes its comeback in the brisket curry (RM24.80), protein-packed with stout, stocky slices in a rich curry paste that conveys Malaysian coconut milk and fragrant spices like cloves, and stir-fried beef with fresh-and-fit broccoli in XO sauce (RM24.80) for a sumptuously balanced meal.

There's still much more to try, from club sandwiches to pork liver macaroni soup, with other HK favourites to be introduced eventually too.

Of course, there's Hong Kong Milk Tea (RM6.80 for hot; RM7.80 for cold) to partner with the food, brewed with imported HK tea leaves. Customers will appreciate how this is served unsweetened, allowing the tea to shine and quenching the thirst perfectly without redundant calories.

The Almond Tea (RM6.80 for hot; RM7.80 for cold) is also alluring, calmingly aromatic in every sip. The hot drinks are served in the Kam Kee brand's own mugs, which took months to design; their beauty is not only in their illustrations of Hong Kong's iconic landscape, complete with double-deck trams. Even the thickness of the mugs was meticulously considered to keep the beverages at their best temperature; the specific thickness of the rim also ensures the tea feels smoothest to the mouth when sipping. These mugs would be fine collector's items - if only Kam Kee were willing to sell them!

If you can't get enough of Hong Kong Milk Tea, you can relish it at home too: Kam Kee offers cans of its own tea, terrific for a chilled refreshment with the family. The tea is sold at a promotional price, pretty much at cost - RM3.80 per can, about half of what it costs at the Hong Kong outlets - so it's no wonder customers have been buying these by the carton, with orders flowing in from as far as Johor and Penang.

All in all, Kam Kee Cafe is a welcome shake-up to the Klang Valley's cha chaan teng scene, expanding its appeal beyond, say, the student crowd to everyone who enjoys food that's not only fast but honorable by every measure. Many thanks to Kam Kee Cafe for having us here.

Kam Kee Cafe

G-032, Ground Floor, The Starling, Jalan SS 21/37, Damansara Utama, 47400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Daily, 8am-930pm (all-day breakfast is now served, starting at 8am). Tel: 03-7733-3168