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Friday, August 19, 2011

Review: Old Town Kopitiam Mamak - QV Building, CBD

Old Town Kopitiam Mamak (QV Square) on Urbanspoon

Malaysian Mamak are collectively the people whose origins are from when their forefathers migrated from the Southern parts of India to Northern Malaysia.  The term Mamak stall is used to refer to an outdoor vendor, small in its appearance, that operates across all hours of the day.  Traditionally Mamaks serve the locals, Malay brewed teas and quick snacks.  The existence of such stalls has become more profound and they are most popular with the youth of Malaysia that are out for a quick socialising session over a cuppa.  More modern Mamaks have taken on the guise of cafés and have extended their menus to accommodate the tastes of their ever-growing numbers patrons.

Mamak style of cuisine varies slightly from the usual Malay dishes you would be accustomed to at your favourite Malaysian restaurant.  The Mamak people of Malaysia have used the influences of their Indian background to fuse dishes together that represent both cultures. Old Town Kopitiam has two outlets in the CBD, one in Chinatown, offering traditional Malaysian and the other in the Queen Victoria Building that is predominantly a Mamak restaurant.  Totally uneducated in the slightest way on Mamak cuisine I tagged along to a lunch get together expecting a nice serve of Beef Rendang – this was definitely not on the menu at the QV Building store, head to Chinatown for that one (I will review the Chinatown outfit in due time).

Since Mamak beverages are all the rage it would be rude not to sample some for ourselves.  You are spoilt for choice here with a variety of white and black coffees and teas with varied amounts of sweeteners and flavour add-ons.  Most intriguing was that you can order a chocolate energy packing Milo or even a Horlicks – a malted cereal beverage that I remember from my childhood in India.  Our drinks of choice were a bit more on the traditional side – Bandung – a rose water flavoured, delightfully pink milk shake like beverage served in the most quirky of contraptions that was rightfully labelled as a ‘drinking jar’.  I would imagine that there is a lid that screws on and you can shake the contents of your beverage without spillage before serving with a straw (I need to get one of these for home!)  My colleague was a little bit more daring and tried the Bandung Cincau which is the rose milk with grass jelly.  Having never experienced grass jelly before, I give her much props.   Alas, she did not find the taste too pleasant though – stick to the original next time.

For starters we ordered Roti Canai ($4) which is a Malaysian flatbread that is served to you hot and crispy.  The talented cook makes it near the counter in part of the open view kitchen. For an additional fifty cents you get accompanying gravies from the available dishes.  While the roti was exceptionally good the $4 price tag is a little steep.  The gravies are a good compliment but not necessary as the roti is tasty enough without and would probably be more value at around the $2 mark.

Nasi Kandar is the Malaysian Mamak equivalent of rice with curry combination that is prevalent in take away shops boasting bain maries stocked with different curries and other dishes.  I ordered rice with two curries, ($8) these being Stewed Beef, Red Chicken Curry.  The beef dish was a mellow tender serve of beef cheek presumably but it had a very sweet flavour to it, almost an overpowering pungency of star anise and/or cinnamon.  The chicken dish was not sweet in flavour but was dotted with whole spices that you bit on if you were not lucky enough to spot them and segregate them to the side of your plate.  Unfortunately the taste of whole cardamom does not satisfy my palette’s requirement for a good restaurant meal.  My colleagues ordered the biryani ($9)as their rice portion and found that they would need to go on a whole spice treasure hunt before proceeding to eat.  The yellow chicken curry was more appetising and the vegetable dishes are simple and satisfying.  

These dishes served in the rustic way that they were, would probably garner more charm and appreciation coming from a street vendor somewhere in Kuala Lumpur.  In an establishment like Old Town Kopitiam Mamak, in quite an architecturally swish restaurant, in the middle of the QV Building, alongside other fine eateries, I find it somewhat unacceptable.  I would be half comforted if told that the dish was served from the take away food court section within the shopping complex.  There is a certain expectation that you have when sitting down to a meal in surroundings where the shop designers have put much thought into, and unfortunately, Old Town Kopitiam Mamak has left a bad (cardamom!) taste in my mouth.  


Adrienne said...

lol. it's cheap and packed with flavour and spices! you'll be back...

ngizee said...

possibly but i would be very selective on what i order...