The floor-to-ceiling windows at The Glass House certainly help lend character to its name – the windows span two storeys and let in lots of light. Headed by Kiwi barista Glen (formerly of Closer), The Glass House serves up a well-curated list of beans (think Canberra brand Ona, Taiwan-based Simon Hsieh, Tanamera from Jakarta) and expert brews. Plans for a coffee roasting facility are in the pipeline. For dessert, one might be tempted by the chocolate cookies, but we say go for the gluten-free Belgian chocolate and sea salt cake instead.
Better latte than never: Melbourne’s Cottle Coffee has finally found its way to Malaysia, after over four decades of sourcing, roasting and blending beans from all over the world. It’s a cosy space with chill vibes; order a cup of coffee brewed from beans flown in from its Melbourne roaster (single origin beans are available, along with a selection of house blends), as well as Asian and Western food fare, such as nasi lemak, pulled beef sandwich and durian cake.
Nara is your answer to eating clean while eating out. It exists in its own bright, beautiful, white-washed bubble; a place where breads are baked in-house, flowers are edible, and ingredients – fresh, organic, premium – come together in an ingenious, thoroughly inspired menu. Try the Big Belly; it’s quinoa served with hummus, orange wedges and roasted beets. To end, there’s dessert: cakes, Forty Licks ice cream, and waffles.
It takes a lot to stand out in café-saturated Kota Damansara, but Fifth Palate (opened last year) is a promising new kid on the block. The space is bright and airy, with huge windows allowing in plenty of natural light. When we visited during a Friday lunch, it was packed with twenty-somethings slurping away on large, comforting bowls of ramen and scarfing down well-assembled platters of French toast with homemade chunky peanut butter, Guinness stout reduction, bacon and caramelised bananas. Apart from the usual brunch suspects (ie big breakfast and baked eggs), Fifth Palate offers something different to the table – freshly baked, fluffy Dutch babies (a cross between popovers and pancakes), sous vide saké chicken, chashu donburi, as well as a formidable array of homemade goods such as wheatgrass yoghurt and aubergine chutney. No wonder Fifth Palate is pulling in the crowds.
At Frisson, the focus is on the food. There’s no restraint, not least on creativity and variety: pasta is cooked 12 ways, such as spicy ayam masak merah; on the mains menu you’ll find the doughnut ringmaster burger, which is Australian beef patty with beef bacon and cheese, sandwiched between two fat, fluffy doughnuts; there are also items like salmon fish head curry, skinny pizzas (baked tortilla as base) and waffle burgers. Not very hungry? Skip the mains and go straight to dessert; Frisson is famous for its towering French toasts and pancakes topped with Nutella or Snickers. The coffee is commendable too.
The café tempers caffeine highs with light fare – a must-order is the charcoal-baked croissant, a signature specialty that’s good on its own but better with a scoop of Kapiti ice cream or smoked salmon slices. The main draw though, is coffee, supplied by Melbourne’s Cottle Coffee. There are two in-house blends available: the milder Classic and the more concentrated Espresso Supreme, a blend of Brazilian, Honduras and Papua New Guinea beans.
What was formerly classroom-themed Ecole P café at Damansara Uptown is now Ampersand by Culinary Rebels, where wooden stools are hung from the ceiling and fun super-size brunches (made for sharing in groups of two to four) are served on banana leaves (on weekends only). Ampersand dishes up a creative and alluring menu which includes highlights like plated chicken wings (think garlic glaze, butter milk with Sriracha), Japanese sweet potato with tzatziki, cacao ribs, a tom yam-based dessert, and more.
Tunku Hadi, the founder and master barista at Aitch micro roaster, strongly believes that a good cup of coffee starts right at the beginning – the farms. As such, he gets his green beans from a reputable supplier in Sydney who educates and works directly with the farmers to not just improve their quality of life but also the quality of the crop. With these specialty beans, Hadi experiments with every batch to discover new blends and roasts.
After a wave of specialty coffee bars in KL, it's tea's turn in the limelight. For a good dose of Zen, head to Japanese tea house Tea Press at Damansara Uptown for soothing cups of genmaicha served by trained tea sommeliers Ami Sugiyama and Shaveisha Bathumalai. The menu includes interesting renditions of tea such as tea espresso, green tea leaves blended with Japanese orange marigold, and even roasted green tea blended with cinnamon and Japanese chilli.
New Zealand's famous Kapiti ice cream takes centre stage at Damansara Kim's Ice Dreams Café (IDC), where you can enjoy scoops of the rich, creamy ice cream in an affogato, with waffles and crepes, and even as an ice cream sandwich. The signature at IDC is the affogato. While we're all used to affogato as being a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream, founders Darren Tan and CK Chee took the literal Italian meaning (which translates to 'drowned') as inspiration to create a whole menu of affogatos with different flavours – and they're not all espresso-based.
Joining the ranks of dessert joints in Damansara Uptown is Miru Dessert Café, a cosy spot that specialises in Shibuya honey toast. The thick, fluffy slice of toast is segmented and buttered before being served with different toppings (think ice cream, fruits, coconut flakes, walnuts and so on). At last count, there were eight flavour combinations available – original honey toast, matcha, cheddar cheese, chocolate banana, s’mores, peanut butter, chocolate strawberry, and even a ferrero toast (with hazelnut sauce topped with the asteroid-like chocolate).
The once-minimalist menu (two soft serve flavours and a variety of toppings) at Hail's Soft Serve is now replaced with a dessert spread featuring waffles, chocolate lava tarts, pavlova and hotcakes, but the star of the show is still the pink peppercorn soft serve. Dress up your ice cream with toppings like green tea marshmallow, meringue stars, vanilla crumble, salted caramel popcorn, French butter cookies, gula Melaka, lemon curd and more, or have it plain to better taste the full flavour of the soft serve. Fans of the Osaka black sesame flavour will be disappointed to know it's a seasonal swirl, but the festive Valrhona chocolate hazelnut soft serve that comes with a Christmas cookie should be a good replacement.
Straight from green tea dessert central Kitayama-dori in Kyoto, tea dessert institution Tsujiri has arrived on Malaysian shores. Known for their matcha-based treats, the 155-year old tea brand Tsujiri uses high quality gyokuro leaves (a type of green tea grown in the shade) for its range of teas and desserts. Apart from having hojicha soft serve or a calming cup of uji matcha, take a seat in the tatami room and pick from the extensive matcha-oriented menu which includes tea macarons and green tea shaved ices. High quality matcha powder, sencha and Japanese tea paraphernalia will be available for purchase in the future.
Cafés worth revisiting
Straight from the streets of Seoul to Sunway Damansara is coffee bar Bean Brothers, housed in a large two-storey warehouse, which makes use of the industrial chic vibe to good effect. In Seoul, they have a brewing centre for barista training (we’ll get a rotation of baristas from there). For now, the outlet in Sunway Damansara features beans flown in from Seoul’s Hapjeong headquarters, but plans for an in-house roaster are in the pipeline.
Battery Acid Club keeps it simple with espresso-based coffee but a more interesting choice for the undecided would be the bottled honey-infused latte, or any of Battery Acid’s own line of ‘creative’ juices. Reflecting the founders’ love for design and architecture, each flavour is named after a design hero: Vignelli (orange, pink guava and strawberry), Corbusier (apple and grapefruit) and Rams (orange, mango and pineapple).
Focusing more on food than coffee, The Good Batch's menu includes the all-day Western brekkie dishes like upgraded mushrooms on toast, corned beef with fried potatoes, blueberry pancakes, and ‘roti canai’ burrito.
Second Sunday has the right idea: breakfast food is the best food. Spring for egg omelette with sweet pumpkin and spinach, pandan pancakes topped with caramelised bananas and coconut flakes, or tortillas stuffed with apples and toasted almonds – you get the idea. Any of these options pair well with the signature durian milkshake. There’s also a long list of espresso-based beverages and tea, along with cakes on display at the counter.
Fill your feed with more than just latte art at Rimba & Rusa; there are few cafés in KL as stunning as this sunlit space at Sunway Nexis, awash with accents of blue, grey and white, with its high ceilings and potted plants. A more well-rounded café than its sister shop Wondermilk, Rimba & Rusa doles out brunch bites, salads, pastas as well as local and Western mains: think grilled glazed ribs with pickled watermelon and cous cous. Round it up with a bottle of the famous Kopi Cap Rusa or the Kopi Cap Rimau Bintang, the newer brew.