(THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - As soon as I walk into A Cafe by Kenny Hills Bakers, owner Au Tai Hon leads me to the kitchen at the back - a pristine, bustling space peopled by a team busy churning out freshly made chocolate eclairs, bread and other delectable offerings.
"Not many people will take you through the kitchen, but I want you to see what we do," says the eloquent Au.
The eatery, which is nestled in leafy, affluent Desa ParkCity is Au's second outpost following the success of Kenny Hills Bakers in Bukit Tunku, which opened three years ago.
Au is a former advertising man who is passionate about good bread and old world coffee. He only works with small-batch suppliers ("I work with a batch of suppliers who are very proud of what they do") and has made it a point to find and secure a team who is as passionate as he is about producing excellent artisanal food. In fact, it is his young team that propelled his decision to open a new outlet.
"The reason I wanted to open this second branch is because my staff has been with me since day one - and I don't need to grow because I am already near-retirement - but they are young so they need to grow with the company," he says.
It must seem surreal to Au to even be considering "growing" because when he opened Kenny Hills Bakers, a tiny 65 sq m bakery, he intended for it to be a neighbourhood place for people to buy artisanal breads and take-away coffee. Instead, it became hugely popular, so popular that Au's landlord offered him more space (an offer Au took up).
"When I started, I had three employees, because we didn't expect it to grow, we weren't expecting anything out of it. Honestly, how the business evolved is based on this philosophy - either you follow the money or you let the money follow you. If you're going to follow the money, you won't do what I'm doing, you'll probably have a system - this is what you find in a fast-food chain because the products are all manufactured elsewhere. But mine is different - my people are artisans and to me at the end of the day, it's about the effort you put into the product. So it's an unorthodox way of doing business," he says.
At A Cafe by Kenny Hills Bakers, Au's commitment to talent and quality is once again on show. He took a year to put the eatery in place and train people, including a whole new team dedicated to making cakes! Everything in the cafe is made from scratch, from the pastry to the pizza to the salted beef. Au doesn't take shortcuts and spends money on quality produce, so you can expect excellence in every mouthful.
The menu is varied and like its predecessor, the cafe has a strong focus on baked goods. You could start with the eggs Benedict salt beef bagel (RM28, S$9.40) which features eggs cooked sous-vide style at 64 deg C, with a house-made bagel, salt beef, mustard and hollandaise.
The egg is creamy and runny the instant you spear it, enrobing the salt beef in a luscious layer of eggy goodness. The beef is just as good, tender but not too soft with just the right seasoning, while the bagel forms the perfect pillow for mopping up all the rich flavours.
Then there is the fish pie (RM28) which features a light, doughy pastry crust forming a protective layer over the creamy white fish and smoked salmon mixture inside. The pie is sinfully good, one of those hedonistic creations that you'll be dreaming about long after your meal is over.
The cafe differs slightly from the original Bukit Tunku outlet in that it is open till 10pm and has a dinner menu. From this menu (6pm onwards), you should definitely, definitely try the beef Wellington (RM68) which boasts a 180g wagyu rump with wilted spinach and truffle mushroom paste encased in puff pastry. Here, the stars have aligned in what can only be described as the perfect alchemy of flavours and textures. The puff pastry is buttery and light with an interior made up of perfectly-cooked beef with truffle mushrooms and spinach adding texture and an opulent air to this offering. Trust me when I say it's unforgettable.
Equally good is the duck confit & waffle (RM55) inspired by Au's trip to the iconic Duck & Waffle in London. The duck is excellent - perfectly crispy on the outside and malleable and pliant on the inside. The waffle is sumptuous and pillowy soft, while the spiced orange sauce (which you can drizzle atop) offers a tangy, zesty counterpoint to the richness of the meal (although it would be great to have more of it).
The eatery's famed sourdough pizzas are also available here from 5.30pm onwards and you'd do well to try some. The cafe makes it own dough, using organic flour and levain (a dough starter) and has even invested in a custom-made Italian wood-fired pizza oven manned by a dedicated pizza expert, who has over 15 years of experience making pizzas.
Because the pizzas are made using a slow-fermentation process, you can expect to see cornicione on the crust. This crackling texture gives the outer layer a delicious crisp bite, a feature that is repeated in all the pizzas, from the beef pepperoni (RM38) to the Sicilian (RM40). The former is laced with generous amounts of beef pepperoni and mozzarella and will satiate purists hankering after an excellent rendition of a classic favourite. The latter is a more unexpected offering speckled with salty anchovies (imported from Spain), luscious roasted peppers, gooey, rich mozzarella and spiced tomato sauce in what proves to be a decadent melange of flavours.
End your meal with one of the many house-made desserts on offer at the cafe, like the matcha tart (RM18) which is made using ceremonial grade matcha. This divine concoction features a buttery, soft (but not too soft) tart shell with a rich, luscious lightly bitter matcha spread crowning this beauty.
The peach strudel (RM16) is one of the eatery's best-sellers and is well worth a try. The puff pastry is light, airy and flaky while the peaches offer a sweetness that is offset by the seductively smooth mascarpone swirls sandwiched between the layers.
Finally, end your stomach-distending, hugely satisfying meal here with a cup of good, old-fashioned flat white (RM11). The coffee is made in the style of old world coffee, so expect full-bodied flavours and a distinct sense of total, utter satisfaction.
Although the Desa ParkCity outlet has proved just as popular as its predecessor, Au says he has no immediate plans for expansion and will instead look to his team for guidance on this.
"I won't say I won't grow - it all depends on my staff and if they want to grow. I don't need to make more money, neither am I ambitious to make it into a big brand. I don't think branding has to do with a name. To me, a brand is where you maintain your integrity. It's not about size or being all over the place, it's about keeping to your core values," he says.
A Cafe by Kenny Hills Bakers
G5-06, The Waterfront, 5, Persiaran Residen, Desa ParkCity, 52200 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-6419 5990