Kam Kee Cafe, The Starling
Bringing an authentic taste of Hong Kong to the Klang Valley, Kam Kee Cafe channels the charm of a cha chaan teng experience in a collaboration between a family of Malaysians and Kam Kee Cafe Hong Kong, a respected Hong Kong F&B brand.
This venue in The Starling mall is the first overseas outpost of Kam Kee Cafe, whose branches span Wan Chai to Tsuen Wan – Kam Kee is the legacy of a Teochew native who came to Hong Kong in the 1950s and started a food shop a decade later, during that era’s birth of Western-influenced, working-class cafes that serve affordable fare, from toasts to tarts. fried noodles to baked rice.
PJ’s Kam Kee Cafe reflects a high level of attention to detail, not only in the quality of its offerings but the tableware and ambiance too. This airy space has become a magnet for customers, gracefully blending contemporary vibrancy with classic vibes from floor to ceiling – check out the old-school tiles, the Oriental turquoise lattice, and the rattan lamp shades.
But the true mouth-watering magic is made in the kitchen; even for those of us who typically have little interest in cha chaan teng cuisine, Kam Kee Cafe is worth exploring. This might be considered fast food, but it’s fabulously fulfilling here – from the choice of ingredients to the care in cooking, Kam Kee Cafe is a credible destination for HK-style casual dining, especially at a time when travel to Hong Kong is impossible.
As we entered and left Kam Kee Cafe, we spotted shoppers purchasing polo buns, the pride of Kam Kee, prominently showcased counter-side at its entrance. Kam Kee’s bakers come in at dawn daily, crafting a maximum of 200 buns throughout the morning and afternoon – before dinnertime, all the polo baos have typically been snapped up.
These are carbs at their most comforting, lightly sweet, soft to the chew, with a denser, crunchier bite toward the sugary-crust top that provides HK’s pineapple buns with their nickname. Kam Kee’s senior chefs and bakers spent a month in Hong Kong to study the brand’s secrets, and the HK team also trained the staff in Malaysia when the cafe launched in January this year, so this is as close as it gets to a Shau Kei Wan breakfast or tea treat.
Each polo bun costs RM3.80, ideal for a fuss-free, take-home snack. If you’re having it here, the selection of stuffings stretches from savoury to sweet, from luncheon meat to tuna and tomatoes and more to make it a polo burger. You can keep it simple too – the bun with a thick slice of butter (RM5.80) is our best bet, a playful perk-me-up with a dash of decadence that goes down smoothly. If your sweet tooth is calling, try the bun with a soothing scoop of homegrown Forty Licks ice cream (RM6.80; the flavour is usually vanilla or chocolate, but if you’re fortunate, a limited-edition HK milk tea ice cream might be available).
Similar to Kam Kee Cafe in Hong Kong, the menu kicks off here with a list of Top 10 Signature Dishes. High on that is the Hong Kong Fried Hor Fun with Beef Slices (RM18.80; pork is available as a substitute) – the flat rice noodles are firm and slick, with a pleasing depth from wok-fired sultriness that blankets each mouthful, rounded out robustly with tender beef (Australian in origin, banishing the chewier buffalo meat passed off as beef elsewhere in KL). If you love soulful, smoky Asian hawker fare and street food, this is the dish to start with.
The Fried Rice with Diced Beef Tongue (RM18.80) is one more to bookmark for bovine cravings – the chunky morsels of clean-tasting, supple-textured Australian beef tongue both complements and contrasts with the gorgeous grains, seasoned to appetising effect with black pepper. For offal enthusiasts, the beef tongue offers a nice flavour boost, but even if tongue, liver and tripe are not up your alley, this is offal at its least offensive. Punch it up with Kam Kee’s blended-from-scratch chilli oil, fine-tuned in true HK fashion, focusing on the pure intensity of the chillies without the distraction of garlic or localised elements like shrimp paste.
The personal favourite of Kam Kee’s Malaysian show-runners is the Fried Instant Noodles with Pork Chop (RM17.80) – the noodles, lovely in their springiness, laced with XO sauce, are a young-at-heart delight for all generations, buoyed by juicy chunks of pork chop for a can’t-fail crowd-rouser.
Our biggest surprise, though, is Cheese-Baked Tomato Pork Chop with Rice (RM18.80) – we expected this to be cloyingly greasy at first bite, then artificially sourish to the final chew. Instead, this is a flawlessly executed rendition of the recipe, marrying moreish mozzarella with luscious tomatoes beautifully, synergised with deboned meat and non-mushy rice for a steaming-hot indulgence that testifies to the kitchen’s capabilities. Converted now into cheese-baked rice devotees, we’d happily return even for this on its own.
If you prefer something soupy, order the Ham with Macaroni in Borsch (RM15.80) – our inner child is thrilled by the spoonfuls of tube pasta submerged under the ham, while adults will be pleased to note the abundance of carrots, cabbage and celery in HK’s version of no-beets borsch, a nourishing tomato broth made full-bodied with beef stock, a far cry from diluted-ketchup versions, best suited for rainy-evening sustenance.
G-032, Ground Floor, The Starling, Jalan SS 21/37, Damansara Utama, 47400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
Daily, 8am-930pm (all-day breakfast is now served, starting at 8am). Tel: 03-7733-3168