Hot Cafes at Raja Uda

While Raja Uda has many culinary delights to be savoured, its cafes up the ante with an array of eclectic offerings.

To most Penangites, Raja Uda is associatedwith local street food fares, such as tom yum noodles and yong tau foo. But in recent times, a number of quirky cafes have mushroomed, each offering its own delicacies. Penang Monthly takes a look at four of them.

The Artichoke Café

KL guy Chris Wong came to Raja Uda to start a cafe after having been in the kitchen and service line in Bukit Bintang for almost 10 years. “I chose the mainland over the island as competition in the latter was just as intense as what I had experienced in KL. Besides, I felt that there were more opportunities for the cafe industry on the mainland,” says Wong.

Karen Lai

Yap, partner-cum-head chef at Artichoke Café.

Together with his two partners, he established The Artichoke Café in July last year with the intention of incorporating that dear vegetable into its menu. This idea, however, took an interesting turn: “Over time, we realised that we couldn’t include artichokes because of sourcing problems. Even if we were able to, it would definitely hurt the wallets of our customers as the artichoke is an expensive product,” says Wong. Currently they serve only one dish with that ingredient – using tinned artichokes. Meanwhile, the search to find a reliable and affordable source continues.

The cafe is known for its European cuisine, which is prepared by partner-cum-head chef Jack Yap, a graduate of Cilantro Culinary Academy. “Most of the food I make is a mixture of East and West – I use Asian ingredients and cook them in a Western manner, and vice versa. I also use French techniques when making the dishes,” Yap elaborates. He revises the menu every two months based on the cafe’s sales records.

Syerleena Abdul Rashid

The Artichoke Cafe's exterior.

And according to Wong, Raja Uda’s cafe scene has the potential to be on the same level as on the island, thanks to two factors: spending power and cost of living. “I came to that conclusion after gathering feedback from customers – I’ve found out that there are many people who are willing to spend. Furthermore, the cost of living is much higher on the island compared to here,” he observes. He seems to be right. The Artichoke Café is enjoying a steady stream of regular customers, though Wong has no plans to expand the business – yet.

Marlons+Co

From a tender age, Alan Khor has had coffee as a staple drink. Having grown up drinking Kopi O, his curiosity in making good coffee was further aroused during a trip to Bangkok. “I was sipping cappuccino when I realised that its taste and composition was on point. From that day on, I began to study and emulate coffee-making techniques in order to offer this taste to the locals,” he recalls. He learned much of this from Melbourne.

Karen Lai

Marlons+Co's Eggs Benedict.

Khor and his four partners established Marlons+Co in 2014, together with the help of his friend and Macallum Connoisseurs co-founder Howard Teow. “As an interior designer, I had previously helped design Teow’s first bubble tea shop. In turn, he agreed to help me set up this cafe as well supply me coffee beans from his cafe,” says Khor.

Marlons+Co’s coffee is a combination of beans from Brazil, Ethiopia and Guatemala, powdered into 20g portions for each cup. Khor says that he follows this measurement so that customers can taste something new every time. “Each of these beans has its own distinct flavour due to the different climates they grow in. For example, some Ethiopian beans may have a berry-like flavour, while others have a strawberry jam taste,” he explains.

When the cafe opened, Marlons+Co only offered coffee and pastries – until a friend suggested including some main dishes to the menu. “To have a cafe survive in Raja Uda, you definitely need food. Having no experience in the F&B line at all, I spent many nights cooking and familiarising myself with the various types of spaghetti and herbs,” says Khor. Today, dishes such as Eggs Benedict, focaccia sandwich, aglio olio and spaghetti carbonara are best sellers.

And although several other cafes occupy the same row of shop lots, competition isn’t an issue. “The cafe owners along this street are my good friends and we help each other out whenever we can,” Khor reveals. Plans for expansion are underway for a cafe with an entirely new name. “I have no intention of stopping,” says Khor. “After all, we didn’t start out thinking how to fail, but how to sustain the business.”

Piknik Everyday

Those on the island may be familiar with Piknik, a cafe located on Jalan Nagore known for its savoury waffles since it started operations in 2011. Four years later, its owners launched the second outlet on the mainland under the name Piknik Everyday.

“Just like the first outlet, we wanted to create a fun, relaxing and affordable place,” says founder Tan Wei Ming. The cafe is furnished with paint-streaked classroom chairs and a school bus meant to evoke high school memories.

Karen Lai

Piknik Everyday.

Another striking feature of Piknik Everyday is its playful artwork; mottos such as “I promise to never bojio” and “I promise to jio my friends” are emblazoned across its walls. “These drawings were made by notable graffiti artists from KL like Kangblabla (Julius Raja Manickam) and Bibi Chun as I wanted to infuse a cheeky side into the cafe,” says Tan. “That,” he says, pointing to a miniature drawing of Miley Cyrus in her music video “Wrecking Ball”, “is by Sliz (W M Abel), another KL artist who often draws naughtythemed paintings and is also behind the skull drawings on the island.”

While Piknik Everyday’s menu is similar to the menu in its other outlet, featuring a wide range of waffles, there are new additions such as Korean chicken waffle burger and cheesebaked rice. “The population in Raja Uda is mainly Chinese-speaking, so we added Chinese text to the menu,” says Tan. He also enlisted the help of Sudanese artist Ammar Khalifa to illustrate the menu.

Syerleena Abdul Rashid

(Left to right) Sliz, Bibi Chun and Kangblabla designing Piknik Everyday's walls.

Aside from its gastronomic fare, art exhibitions are also organised every two months at the island outlet with quirky themes such as “Tu Kao Gang” and “Hoes before Bros”. As for Piknik Everyday, a “blog shop” titled “Super Free Part 2” was held in April, where local bloggers were invited to conduct workshops for the public.

Tongue Mission

Tongue Mission began operations only earlier this year, but the cafe-cum-roastery is already supplying coffee beans to six cafes on both the island and the mainland. The average amount of coffee beans supplied by Tongue Mission is 30kg-40kg per month, according to cafe manager Dennis Cheah. “We supply mostly espresso beans which are basically a blend of beans from different regions,” he says. “As more and more people drink espresso-based coffee, one can see a demand for balanced coffee that is not too bitter or sour. If the natural sweetness can be tasted from the coffee, all the better,” he explains.

Cheah feels that the coffee scene in Raja Uda is taking off. “What I’ve found is that once mainland folks like something, they’ll keep coming back. Most of our customers are regulars,” he says. “The cafe industry in Malaysia has lots of space to grow. What defines Penang’s cafe culture is the art, ambience and gradual improvement of what is offered.”

 

Sarah Yeoh is a student who enjoys winding down to a relaxing session of jazz and is a closet fan of Arsenal.



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