Malaysian restaurant review: Cafe Malacca at Hotel Jen, Hong Kong
Some of the best Malaysian food in Hong Kong
Having lived in Singapore for five years, I now have an unquenchable appetite for hawker food. There are a number of restaurants supposedly serving my favourite char kway teow, but I find they always come up a bit short. After all, a char kway teow without Chinese sausage, cockles, or lard is basically just fried noodles. In my hunt for the best hawker food in Hong Kong, I think I’ve asked every Singaporean, Malaysian, or person that has lived in Southeast Asia to share their secrets. Where do they go when they crave a taste of home? I thought there would be a few hidden gems, but only one restaurant kept coming up: Café Malacca.
Housed in Hotel Jen, this Malaysian restaurant has been around for a few years now. Like most Southeast Asians, they take their food extremely seriously. Mrs. Poon, their Culinary Director, has trained up her kitchen staff to become specialists in the art of hawker cooking. The chefs specialize in a few dishes and conduct extensive market research (taste tests) in Malaysia to ensure what they cook up is as authentic as possible. Considerable effort is made to ensure that even the sauces are made from scratch with the right ingredients. Just thinking about their balachan and sambal chili sauces is making my mouth water all over again.
While there is some experimentation in hawker food (hello salted egg carrot cake), much of it is classic. Foodies don’t want their favourite dishes changing. For this reason, Café Malacca has built up a loyal clientele without needing to constantly update its menu. However, they continue to introduce new dishes, one or two at a time, to the Hong Kong market.
Recently, we had the opportunity to try some of their best-selling dishes old and new.
These grilled skewers may be small in size but they are big in flavour. We tried both the beef and chicken. Both are good, though we found the chicken especially tender. A couple of these smothered in the spicy peanut sauce is a great way to start a meal.
Rojak is a mixed fruit salad with a distinctive dark, sweet taste. The blackish sauce includes hoisin sauce, prawn paste, and balachan chili. Mixed up with pieces of guava, starfruit, pineapple, cucumber and fried crullers, it’s full-flavoured yet fresh.
Char Kway Teow
Ah my favourite hawker food. Café Malacca’s char kway teow is hands down the most authentic version I’ve found in Hong Kong. It has the key ingredients of charred rice noodles, fatty Chinese sausage, and crunchy beansprouts. The kitchen was even happy to meet our request to add fried lard to the mixture which gave it an extra dimension of deliciousness. Next time we’ll see if they can add some chili sauce too.
These fried cubes of homemade carrot (or, well, radish) cake were perfection. We loved the soft yet crispy texture, and the wok hei flavour. We felt this one had a bit more spice than the char kway teow, and may be our new favourite hawker dish in Hong Kong.
Beef Rendang (and Roti)
Café Malacca’s version uses shin beef, which has a pleasing amount of fat. The meat was tender, and extremely fragrant having been marinated with lemongrass, coconut, and various spices. To be extra sinful, we ate this saucy dish with crispy roti instead of steamed rice.
Our large stingray was from New Zealand. It was flame grilled, smothered with the smooth sweetness of a sambal chili sauce, and further enhanced with a squeeze of calamansi. We haven’t seen this dish on the menu of any other Southeast Asian restaurant in Hong Kong, and were glad to satisfy our craving here.
This infamously smelly fruit is quite polarizing. Those who enjoy it will be happy to find two options on the menu. One is made with D24 grade durian, a high quality grade with a smooth yet pungent taste. The other is made with Mao Shan Wang durian, known as the “King” of Durians; it's mild and creamy texture make it highly sought after. As a durian fan, I think both are delicious but the Mao Shan Wan version is a distinctively milder choice for those that are trying it for the first time.
Every country has their own iconic icy dessert, and ice kachang is one of Malaysia’s. A mixture of beans, corn, and palm seeds are covered with a mount of ice and homemade sarsaparilla syrup.
We agree that Café Malacca is offering some of the most authentic Malaysian food in Hong Kong. While there are other restaurants in this category, we truly feel that none of them are offering the same quality. The variety of authentic spices and sauces used is what makes it stand out.
For those that already love Café Malacca, you’ll be glad to know there are a few new things on the menu. During our visit, the special was Bee Thai Bak, a traditional childhood favourite. We also hear they will soon be serving a Southeast Asian-inspired afternoon tea set, and have our fingers tightly crossed that it will include some rainbow kueh and pandan cake.
Hotel Jen, 508 Queen's Rd W, Shek Tong Tsui, 2213 6613
This post will also appear on afoodieworld.com :)