It’s always brave to start a restaurant. To sign a lease. To research a cuisine. To train a chef and servers. To design and decorate with bold colours and prints. And then to open the doors, despite the weather, despite the politics, and despite the uncertainties of a new and deadly virus.
But I think it takes even more guts to put street-food on a restaurant menu. Because, there will always be people who passionately hate you for it. Ascetics, who loathe paying a premium for dishes of humble origin. And purists, who question the authenticity of every ingredient and cooking technique in your kitchen. The knives come out when you mess with dishes that are the defining moments of childhood and travel abroad. So elevating street food to restaurant quality is no mean feat. But for the best part, I think JALAN nails the brief.
The Beef Rendang was creamy, comforting and packed with flavour. The beef was meltingly tender and the rich, savoury sauce was perfect for topping spoonfuls of delicately fragranced coconut rice. This was easily our favourite main, and I think the most popular dish the day we visited.
Chilli Beeef Skewers
The Chilli Beef Skewers were a refined take on the satay sticks found in Southeast Asian hawker stalls. Diehards might bemoan the lack of a thick (and sometimes fiery) peanut dipping sauce. But the light chilli and lime substitute provided plenty of zing, without being overindulgently heavy. Paired with a fresh and crisp lotus root and coriander side salad this was a nice touch to help office working diners avoid postprandial food comas.
True to theme, the Market Fish Laksa wasn’t the archetypal Southeast Asian laksa. But I certainly wouldn’t fault it for that either. Romain, the unfailing helpful assistant manager, explained that the fish is delicately roasted separately from the sauce. The result is a generous serving of tender, flakey fish atop a rich broth. There are no noodles, which again might leave some frothing at the mouth. But in this iteration, we enjoyed the extra flavour and the absence of carbs. Instead, we savoured al dente snake beans and little bursting bombs of cherry tomatoes in each mouthful.
Which brings us to dessert. The Set Teh Tarik was a pillowy milk tea mousse deliciously balanced with the crunch of a crumbled ginger biscuit topping. But the Kaya Toast Doughnuts were our unanimous favourite. These were frosted with a sweet coconut jam made better by the complex toffee-ish notes of unrefined gula melaka sugar. This was traditional food with a very welcome modern twist.
Written exclusively for WELL, Magazine Asia by Niall Westley