Sunbather Coffee, The Sphere

March 14, 2019

Neko-manma 'cat rice' bowls blanketed with smoky chicken cubes, shoyu and bonito flakes. Big Breakfast platters packed with tamagoyaki, teriyaki chicken meatballs, sausage onigiri and Japanese potatoes. Orecchiette pasta tossed in edamame pesto.

Basking in inspirations from the Land of the Rising Sun, Sunbather Coffee marks the second coming of Thirdwave cafe, moving from Bangsar South's Nexus complex to The Sphere nearby, reinventing itself as a distinctive destination for yoshoku - Japanese interpretations of European and Western fare. 

While some customers might be sad that the sun has set on Thirdwave, practically the entire team remains intact at Sunbather, bringing their imaginative sparkle and intense passion for engaging ingredients to this new venue. Sunbather shines as a triumph of both concept and execution, a natural step forward for the folks who also run Kakigori, the Japanese shaved ice dessert parlour that's been expanding from PJ to Pavilion.

While Sunbather Coffee has been in a soft-launch stage for nearly three months, it's finally unveiling its full repertoire this week, with a fresh selection to be introduced this weekend. From Mondays through Fridays, a menu of nourishing meals is served during the daytime, while Saturdays and Sundays see a wider cornucopia of more indulgent fare. All week long, Japanese-inflected desserts and a playful parade of beverages are available until past sunset.

Our favourite Sunbather temptation is a weekend speciality: Buckwheat buttermilk pancakes with black tea-poached prunes, ooey-gooey toasted mochi, kuromitsu sugar syrup-flavoured ice cream, bubu arare tiny crispy rice balls, burnt pineapple, orange coulis and Earl Grey tea syrup (RM26). The synergy in this ensemble is sweetly satisfying, with an irresistible interplay between each component, making the whole even more delectable than the sum of its parts - the culinary equivalent of a stage musical where every role is integral and hits beautiful notes. For pancake devotees seeking a masterfully thought out rendition.

Offered seven days a week are sando-style sandwiches, strikingly thick and spectacularly layered. For the prime ratio of protein, fibre and carbs, have the Chicken Sando (RM26), bursting with smooth and tender sous vide chicken breast, turkey hand, crisp lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar, subtly spicy maple peanut sauce in dark rye bread - for everyone who knows the team here, it's no surprise that the sauce and the bread are house-made, for that meticulous precision of wholesome pleasure.

Eggs can be enjoyed in eclectic forms, from a ramen-style marinated boiled egg in a guilt-free bowl of rolled oats, shiitake mushrooms, wakame seaweed, shoyu sauce, bonito flakes and furikake seasoning (RM22; so well-balanced and proportioned that even oat haters might relish this thick concoction, boasting a mellow, earthy-briny umami) to baked eggs that blend Tokyo with Tuscany, concealing runny-soft onsen eggs beneath cheesy gratinated miso bechamel with smoked salmon, burnt leeks and broccoli, completed with buttery sourdough toast made airy-chewy with a base of raisin water (RM32).

These two recipes might ideally illustrate the legend behind Sunbather Coffee - the food represents a fictional character, Mr O, who loves sunbathing at home, sometimes on his porch but mainly in his living room, where sunlight streams through the windows. Mr O's other diversion: Cooking yoshuku-type meals in his cosy kitchen that represent every flavour under the sun.

Hambagu has long been a staple at Japan's yoshokuyas, so it's a cornerstone of Sunbather too (available all week long) - expect not only beef hamburg steaks made with Australian-bred cattle but also chicken patties. All 200 grams of the hambagu (RM28) showcase quality beef, resulting in a robust bite and a real-meat chew, rounded out with a choice of deeply savoury demi-glace or Japanese curry, plus steamed rice or baguette bread to mop up the sauce.

Customers can also have a cow with the gyutan goulash (RM35), a fun change from the typical ox-tongue rice bowls - the paprika-rich, tomatoey Hungarian-influenced stew promises plenty of tongue action, yielding steaming-hot, sultry-flavoured comfort for those bleak, stormy evenings when the sun hides its face.

Sunbather's range is far-reaching, so multiple visits might be required to explore the menu. Starting 3pm everyday, shokupan Japanese toasts emerge from the oven, baked with a yudane milk bread method for a 'mochimochi' effect - firm to the teeth, springy-soft on the palate. The shokupan selection takes centre stage on the front page of Sunbather's menu (a beautiful collection of water-colour masterworks), so consider sampling one, perhaps with a trio of matcha milk spread, hojicha milk spread and strawberry compote (RM15).

Also intriguing: French-fashion galettes, a cousin of crepes, crowned at Sunbathers Coffee with possible combinations like rosemary-roasted grapes, whipped ricotta cheese, thyme honey, toasted walnuts and balsamic reduction, a swirl of fruity-dairy dynamics with herbaceous-nutty dimensions that's meant to have customers walking on sunshine (RM25).

Sunbather makes its own ice cream, so we'd be remiss not to have some. Check out the winter snack of yaki imo - slow-roasted Japanese sweet potatoes, nectarous-tasting and custardy, served scorching with scoops of sweet potato ice cream for twin textures of sweet potatoes, double the tuberous delight, sprinkled with black sesame seeds for a final flourish (RM15).

The ice cream is prepared in small batches, furnishing clean, natural flavours and a light, silky texture. You can also order it in hand-crafted Japanese parfaits - the Momoko (RM26) conveys the vivacious tang of (deep breath!) peach gelee, poached pear, apricot ice cream, yuzu curd, raspberry caviar and citrus lime meringue shards with Madagascar vanilla ice cream, Earl Grey tea jelly and white chocolate caviar for lovable lusciousness - but the ultimate Sunbather dessert that's destined for veneration is the deceptively named Deconstructed Feta Cheesecake (RM18), more of a cross between Turkish Delights and baklava, overlapped with feta and cream cheese over crunchy phyllo pastry sheets and salted almonds, completed with pistachio-laced, rose-scented ice cream that feels like the whisper of a fragrantly floral chilled breeze between your lips.

With 'coffee' embedded in the cafe's moniker, caffeine isn't banished to the dark side of the moon at Sunbather Coffee. While typical espressos are available, the baristas have also created shimmering signatures - the Ethiopian cold brew with dried apricot ice cream, for example, marvellously weds the coffee beans' stone fruit nuances with apricot's full-bodied zest (RM15). 

Tea is taken equally determinedly, with the iced matcha latte coupled with hojicha kanten jelly for a soothing, slurp-worthy experience that might leave bubble tea in the dust for many. Lavender-laced lemonades and sparkling elderflower beverages with grapefruit supply reviving relief for afternoons when sunburns are more likely than a simple tan.

Many thanks to Sunbather Coffee for having us. For cafe fans seeking one of the first lights to illuminate 2019's long tunnel, here comes the sun indeed.

Sunbather Coffee

UG-12, Upper Ground, The Sphere, 8, Jalan Kerinchi, Bangsar South, 59200 Kuala Lumpur.

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