Jalan Dhoby is the best place to start your JB café-hopping adventure. Ten minutes away on foot from City Square Mall, the narrow street has the highest concentration of cafés, from coffee shops to trendy brunch eateries. We packed our passports (and cameras), hopped on a bus, and paid a visit to our closest neighbour to bring you the 12 best cafés in Johor Bahru.
Roost Café and Bistro
You know you've arrived at Jalan Dhoby when you spot Roost Café and Bistro. Entering the café is like stepping into a two-storey time machine – think mid-century sofas, antique telephone sets, mini jukeboxes and ornate mirrors, relics of a bygone time. The food menu is based on co-owner Sea Wong’s family recipes and the drinks are served in small, colourful buckets. When you’re done dining and drinking, pop over to Miss Ireen Handmade and The Girl Next Door: the custom accessories boutique, and designer/vintage store and hairdressing salon share an al fresco area with Roost.
9 Jln Dhoby (+60 1 6776 7489). Mon-Sat noon-4pm, 6pm-midnight; Sun 6pm-midnight.
TIP The Ice-Cream Project
At this pint-sized Jalan Dhoby storefront – which, by the way, has a swing for a seat – the staff offer a twist on traditional ice cream with the help of some good ol’ liquid nitrogen. Lest you start your naysay – ‘But liquid nitrogen ice cream is nothing new!’ – let the freshest, finest ice cream this side of Malaysia do the talking.
There are only four fuss-free flavours: original in milk, chocolate, brownie and cream, and butterscotch. But less is more, especially when it comes to tried-and-tested classics. Order a scoop of the original, top it off with a hot, homemade chocolate chip cookie, and wash it down with a glass of milk; it’s as deceptively decadent, yet truly wholesome as any ice cream treat there is. There’s coffee, too, but we suggest you pick from the extensive Gryphon tea menu.
31 Jln Dhoby (+60 7-300 7286, www.facebook.com/tipdonttilt). Tue-Thu & Sun 3-10pm; Fri & Sat 3pm-midnight.
Flowers in the Window
Littered with ferns and flowers, this cosy café smells like you’re taking a trek through the crisp rainforests of Malaysia. The first floor can feel a little cramped, but head upstairs for more comfy seats to lounge in. Since Flowers in the Window is run by the same people behind Roost, the menu is similar.
The Hainanese chicken rice noodles (RM14) is unlike anything we’ve tried in Singapore: the noodles are thick, chewy and sticky, perfect for the sweet and spicy sauce. The chicken is lightly battered and fried, but not too greasy. Drinks and desserts also pick up on the floral theme – try the lavender pineapple juice (RM15.90) and lemon meringue curd (RM16).
9 Jln Dhoby (+60 1 6776 7489). Mon & Wed-Sun 10am-10pm.
The Replacement – Lodge and Kitchen
Compared to other cafés ‘round these parts decked out in crazy decor, The Replacement stands out with its minimalist design. Natural light bounces off white walls and the marble bar, giving the spartan café a warm glow.
Out of all the cafés we tried during our JB trail, The Replacement undoubtedly has the best food. Order the soft shell crab bao with fries (RM29.90): the crispy texture of the soft shell crab has a nice contrast to the soft, homemade bao bun. For dessert, get a plate of piping hot churros (RM16.90) with your choice of dip – there’s salted caramel, dark chocolate, hazelnut Nutella and the ever-coveted salted egg yolk sauce.
33 Jln Dhoby (+60 1 0226 0311, www.facebook.com/thereplacementlodgeandkitchen). Daily 9am-9pm.
With an unassuming façade and name, we weren’t expecting much from Sangkaya. And when the small, hollowed-out husk of a young coconut arrived with four scoops of ice cream, we were still not convinced. But from the first bite, we knew there was a reason for Sangkaya’s confidence in serving only coconut ice cream.
The ice cream is thick, creamy and tasted better than those we’ve had in Bangkok. Yes, even the ones from Chatuchak. While we only sampled the original (from RM2.90), it also comes flavoured with Thai milk tea, green tea or chocolate. Order a combo set and get any ice cream and coconut water at RM12.90.
14 Jln Dhoby (+60 3 8938 9889, sangkaya.co). Mon-Thu & Sun 1pm-11pm; Fri & Sat noon-midnight.
Koone is a charming pop of pink along the otherwise dull-looking stretch of Jalan Dhoby. Push open the large wooden door and you’ll find that pink makes its way to the interior, too. Even its soft serve comes in a pink cup.
So it’s surprising that it doesn’t actually serve pink strawberry ice cream. Instead, there are only four flavours (RM10) on the menu: French vanilla, dark chocolate, Japanese matcha and Nova yogurt. If you’re feeling a ‘little fancy’, opt to have some toppings along with your soft serve. The bestselling Hokkaido matcha (RM14) is topped with Japanese dango and drizzled with honey.
30 Jalan Dhoby (+60 1 6934 4850, www.facebook.com/koonesoftserve). Mon-Thu noon-9pm; Fri-Sun noon-11pm.
Don’t be confused when you first step into Bev C – the café is on the second floor. The first floor is a retail space that houses fashion basics, mostly in either black or white. Once you’re happy with your purchase, climb up the narrow staircase and order yourself some coffee and snacks to refuel. Or, if you feel daring enough, you could rest your head on the decorative bed laid out in the middle of the café. The house special espresso ice cube (RM13.90) is a hot favourite. Shots of coffee are frozen into cubes and served with a side of milk – this way, you can enjoy a cold cuppa without diluting it with ice.
54 Jln Tan Hiok Nee (+60 7 221 3530, www.facebook.com/BevCclothingbrand). Tue-Sun 11am-8pm.
The newest café on the stretch, Shakespeare Milkshakes is also a gem of a discovery. While the focus here is on milkshakes, it doesn’t go completely over the top with saccharine concoctions that have 'diabetes' written all over them.
The Kinder Bueno Shake (RM16) comes in a tall glass, whose rim is coated with Nutella, topped with a cookie and half a Kinder Bueno. For people with a sweet tooth, waffles served with soft-serve ice cream and other toppings like chocolate banana (RM15) are available, but we recommend getting a 'croffle' instead. These croissants are stuffed with treats like ham and cheese or beef pastrami before being pressed in a waffle maker.
9 Jln Trus (+60 16 421 8530, www.facebook.com/pg/shakespeare.milkshakes). Mon-Tue & Thu-Sun 1-11pm.
Faculty of Caffeine
A short distance away from the main café district is Faculty of Caffeine. Pipes line the walls, fluorescent bulbs hang from the ceiling and exposed brick walls that have been painted over in white all add to the charm of this quaint joint.
Faculty recently overhauled its menu, adding pasta dishes and savoury pancakes to the mix. The FOC Aglio Olio (RM18.90) comes with your choice of beef bacon or smoked duck, button mushroom and 63°C sous vide egg, creating a luscious sauce once we tossed our pasta. Skip the Korean fried chicken with pancakes (RM19.90), though. The rubbery pancakes were tough to swallow, and the sauce that coated the chicken tastes predominantly of ketchup.
106 Jln Trus (+60 16-720 0068, www.facebook.com/facultyofcaffeine). Daily 9am-6pm.
Atlas Coffee Embassy
JH Yee knows his beans and brews. The winner of 2012's Malaysia Barista Championship, recipient of Time Out KL's 2013 food personality award, and all-round coffee champion has set up shop at Atlas Coffee Embassy. Serving its very own Atlas Signature Blend coffee – Brazil Santo Antonio, Costa Rica La Trinidad and Sumatra Tiga Raja Simalungun – the café is the reigning champ in a capital of contenders: a sun-lit, white-washed space by Japan-based designer Jeff Ong for brew geeks from Penang to Singapore. The waffles, a throwback from Yee’s Top Brew days, are wonderful, too.
32 Jln Austin Heights 8/7, Taman Mount Austin (+60 7 358 7546/www.facebook.com/atlascoffee). Mon-Sat 8.30am-11pm; Sun 8.30am-7pm.
Just Want Coffee, The Factory 30
Tucked away among warehouses and workshops in Mount Austin is this 4,000-square-foot, two-storey coffee Mecca. The Factory 30 is the headquarters of the Just Want Coffee brand, which has outlets around JB in Ink Brew by JWC and Headmost Cafe by Just Want Coffee.
For friendly service, and if you’re fastidious about what’s in a cup, you’d be happy here. The menu, or the 'manual', details different beans, brews and types of coffee roaster machines. It can get overwhelming, but the baristas and staff are happy to talk you through it. Note that there’s always a crowd – but the bagels, baked fresh daily, are reason enough to wait for a table.
30 Jln Mutiara Emas 5/3, Taman Mount Austin (+60 7 350 7508, www.facebook.com/thefactorythirty). Daily noon-midnight.
The Brew Orchestra
The Brew Orchestra brings the entire symphony to its disciplined, distinct design. Much like a concert hall, the ceilings are decorated with strings akin to those found in pianos, with light bulbs dangling off like musical notes. The decor, courtesy of Singaporean design consultancy Ehka Studio, is award-winning, but the spotlight is still on the coffee: café owner Isaac Loh is a licensed, professional cupper, one of Malaysia’s few Q-Graders.
Standards are high here. The Orchestra acquires only grade 85 and above beans, with specialty coffee and seasonal house blends the standouts. Pair your coffee with a plate of eggs Benedict or the yogurt granola, which comes with a choice of fresh berries or banana and pomegranate.
19 Jln Molek 1/5C, Taman Molek (+60 7-358 8234/www.facebook.com/thebreworchestra). Mon-Thu & Sun 9.30am-7pm; Fri-Sat 9.30am-11.30pm.