London’s steady rise as a gastronomic destination of choice in the past decade is no doubt due to the breadth of cuisines on offer in our multicultural society. This is very much in evidence when you consider the staggering breakfast and brunch options on offer to Londoners, dishing up opportunities to experience less familiar cuisines.
We went along recently to Ping Coombes’ monthly Breakfast Club at her restaurant Chi Kitchen inside Debenhams on Oxford Street. Your first thoughts might be to question adventurous, gourmet food inside a department store on Oxford Street. Any doubts were dispelled on arrival when we saw a full house of enthusiastic food-lovers along with Ping Coombes present and not just to make a speech, but to make sure service was ultra-smooth and to answer any questions from inquisitive diners.
If you’ve been hiding under a rock, you might not know that Ping Coombes was the winner of BBC’s Masterchef in 2014, in which she showcased with flair her knowledge of traditional Malaysian and South-East Asian cuisine. Ping was on hand to give amusing anecdotes about Malaysian culture. Apparently, the greeting of choice in Malaysia is “Have you eaten?” rather than the typical “How are you?”.
Malay food has been less popular than Thai food, Ping would suggest because of the myriad of its influences from Indian, Chinese to Malay. It’s less easy to define than the typical spiciness of Thai cuisine. Hence, this makes her monthly breakfast club on the second Sunday of each month even more exciting, as she introduces different aspects of this magnificent fare.
During our visit, we tried some elegantly made Kari Puff, which was spicy potato-filled pastry, which was one of Ping’s favourite snacks during her childhood. The pastry was thin, delicate and not overfilled with ingredients so an ideal start to a four-course feast.
Mee Rebus is a classic noodle dish that Malaysians readily eat at any time of the day and not just first thing in the morning. The sweet and spicy gravy was thick yet appetising and was made with sweet potatoes and pumpkins. There was a pleasing textural crunch from the fried bean curd.
For desserts, we tried the popular Bubur Cha Cha, which is a coconut-based sweet soup filled with sweet potatoes, sago and taro. It was a riot of flavours, colours and textures; perhaps I do prefer the simplicity of the Chinese version with just sago and coconut cream, but the exoticism of this dessert demands your attention.
The meal was finished off with a healthy, digestion-aiding apple and ginger shot. At £20 with unlimited tea and coffee, this is a great opportunity to explore one of the lesser-known cuisines in London.
Words by Baldwin Ho