There’s fine-dining and there’s dining in a fine old place filled with charm and genteelness. Huck’s Cafe serves up the passion of ex-art-director Huck Seng who admits that cooking doesn’t feel like a job, and whose quiet friendliness and personable touch makes dining there feel like a warm and tasty little treat.
So, my husband’s 41st birthday was coming up. No big deal right? They don’t even make Hallmark cards for that number. Enter the caveat: It is a big deal if you had to celebrate your 40th the year before in a completely new country, having just moved there with your family. And the only gift you got was the Man Flu. Okay, as the devoted, kitchen-goddess-wannabe wife, I did work up a sweat braising some special spiced soya-sauce beef for him. Not that he could eat much as he was busy groaning on the couch, complaining about the absence of a heartbeat, and predicting his own demise. (That’s the Man Flu for you.)
To make it up to Colin with a milestone birthday of sorts, I decided to plan a surprise dinner party for him back in KL this year. Now this is a big deal. For me. Surprising him isn’t as simple as a basic calculation of X number of people congregating at X venue at X time. I could also burn less calories booking him into a spa or buying him a few more months’ worth of skincare products. Why?
Firstly, my metrosexual half is quite perasaan. I remember just asking him two questions (1) “Eh, are we going back to KL on the 31st?” and (2) “What do you think of a nice spread of local and western food somewhere lush and jungle-like?” The instant response? “Why? You planning my surprise birthday party ah?” Haiyo. What’s more, I asked them on separate days. So what did I do? With my thick skin firmly on, I went ahead with the pseudo-surprise dinner party, anyway.
Now, friends felt that the first venue I’d had in mind might have more mosquitoes than the variety of mojitos on their menu. So my bestie, Li-Hsian, an expert in tracking interesting restaurants, pointed me to Huck’s Cafe at Jalan Abdullah (not far from Pusat Rakyat LoyarBurok, mind you). My first thought was, Ok, ‘café’ doesn’t sound very big-birthday-bashy but I Googled, then facebook-ed the eatery and decided – after evaluating pictures of the place and its menu – to give it a go.
Of course, during the planning, it dawned on me that the Café operated on a private kitchen concept (whassat?). So basically I had zero idea about:
Eventually, with the help of Huck Seng and my hand phone, my sotong brains managed to put two-and-two together and I finally confirmed my reservation. And what an amazing dining experience it was from the moment we stepped into the portico!
The Café is an all-white, post-colonial-style bungalow reminiscent of the 70’s. I mean, it has a portico complete with chairs for chatting. As Colin’s friends trickled in, I had to usher everyone into our private dining room else we’d have ended camping outside. It was really that welcoming – just like home.
The push doors lead into an open area naturally demarcated for different patrons with décor pieces. A small chitchat area right in front of the entrance allows guests to chill out and chatter before and after meals.
Inside our dining room, a long wooden table stood in the centre, surrounded by cabinets, wall-mirrors, collectibles, and side tables filled with knick-knacks. We even spotted an old cast-iron Swedish oven atop one of the cabinets. Meanwhile, a huge vase of fresh flowers made a dynamic centerpiece on the table. And prettily folded olive green napkins peeked out from delicate wine goblets.
I felt like I was hosting a dinner in a house I’d never be able to afford in a million years. Not that it was stuffy and atas although you’d be forgiven for assuming or feeling so; the moment you walk into the ‘house’, the pristine whiteness of the walls before you and the general neatness of the place do elicit inclinations to tiptoe about.
While we slowly took in the spaciousness of our private dining haven, the Basil Seed Mint Soda arrived in tall glasses. Amidst the golden orange mist at the bottom of the glass floated hundreds of black little seeds waiting to be sucked through the thick straws. Our thoughts as the drink swirled down our throats were: tangy, sweet, crunchy, nice – in that order, too.
Then, Huck’s right-hand entered the room and, in a soft-spoken manner, asked us – a bit like in school – to raise our hands to choose either the mushroom or asparagus soup. I picked the mushroom. It was neither too thick nor thin, but it was loaded with coarsely chopped mushrooms. Freshly made for sure. Right after, the Eden Salad arrived with its plethora of colours as did the Grilled Lemon Grass Sotong. I’m a big salad person but I missed out because I was busy tongue-wagging with everybody. But I certainly managed to taste the squid which was a contrast of piquant flavours and crunchy-chewy textures.
Before long, the main courses started rolling in. Only 18 out of 21 guests made it to the dinner eventually so we decided to have the 21 plates spread out in the middle for everyone to share. 2 servings of the Cottage Lamb Stew Pie rolled out first, followed by the Raging Bull (a beef stew in a pie crust complete with pastry horns).
The lamb had such intense flavours probably owing to hours of being soaked in a marinade before being stewed for another eternity and baked. Meanwhile, the tender pieces of beef in a spa of rich bay leaf infused red-wine gravy went perfectly with its light buttery pastry casing. I love a good piecrust so I soaked a lot of it in the beef gravy.
The litany of food continued with the arrival of the Grilled Salmon with Lime Rice, Garlic Asparagus and Lemon Butter Sauce as well as the Foil-baked Nyonya Fish. While more established Nyonya restaurants might boast of time-and-customer-tested baked fish recipes, I just appreciate how light yet full-flavoured and home-cooked Huck’s version tastes.
Last to join the procession of food were the Ocean Deep Seafood Spaghetti cooked the Asian way, and the Tarragon Roast Chicken. The sauce in the spaghetti tasted subtly of bunga kantan, Kaffir lime leaves and santan. It was delicate and not too spicy. The chicken, meanwhile, was tender and tasted of the earthy yet aromatic flavour of tarragon.
Dinner ended on a high because the desserts were just crazy good. Seriously, where can you get Durian Mudpie with Ice-Cream? Or Rocky Road with Cashew nuts, Crispy Chocolate Waffle and Chivas in it? Even the traditional Creme Brulee and Chocolate Mudpie with Ice-cream were good – what I call desert staples done well.
Anyway, speaking of surprises, I did manage to elicit some measure of it in the end. Firstly, I managed to squeeze in a lie a day before returning to KL. I said, “Sorry, honey, only five can make it. Hope you’re not too disappointed.” So when all 18 friends turned up, a pair of irises did expand. Secondly, Colin really loved the food and ambience including the staff on hand to attend to us. A nice little touch for us all was when Huck Seng himself served the Creme Brulees and personally toasted the surfaces in front of us with his portable Bunsen burner!
Admittedly, I did almost spoil the event a little: Not used to private kitchen concept, I completely forgot to BYO some wine. I gingerly asked one of Huck Seng’s crew if they had any bottle lying about and he was quite ready to open 2 ports that looked like part of the décor in one cabinet at the hall. Luckily, Rodney, one of Colin’s oldest friends and partners turned up with two good reds. So there was no drama in the end.
If I were to sum up all the dishes I’d say that everything had a distinct flavour to it. But I also believe the environment and the staff lifted our enjoyment of the food. After all (and Lord Bobo would agree) a happy tummy would be incomplete without a gratified soul.
Address: Huck’s Cafe, 22, Jalan Abdullah, Off jalan Bangsar, 59000, KL (map available here)
Contact: +603 2282 8221 0r +6012 604 8719
Email: [email protected]
(For now, open for dinner only. Please book in advance by making a request on Huck’s Cafe’s facebook page as dishes are cooked to order.)