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The Narra Filipino Resto Lounge, Petaling Jaya

Despite having a sizable community here, Filipino cuisine is still (imo) underappreciated in Malaysia. Unlike Thai or Indonesian restaurants, which are ubiquitous all over the country, Filipino restaurants are a bit more difficult to find, and their patrons are usually Filipinos, rather than Malaysians. There is one thing to be said about that, though – it usually means that these are the places that serve authentic food for those who crave a taste of home.

One of these restaurants is The Narra Filipino Resto Lounge, tucked within Dataran Millennium in Petaling Jaya. When searching for the best Filipino restaurants in KL, The Narra regularly tops the list – and for good reason. They have a wide variety of dishes from different parts of the Philippines, service is good, and prices and portions are fair. I’ve been here several times, and even celebrated a birthday here with the Hubs. Since my parents have never tried Filipino cuisine, I thought it’d be a good idea to bring them here for dinner on Sunday.

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The decor is pretty much the same from my previous visit: neat, with clean white tables and chairs, and a small stage where a live band performs on weekends. There is a display of baked goods and cakes at the counter, as well as a couple of shelves stocked with Filipino treats and canned goods. It was quiet during our visit, so we didn’t have to wait long for our food.

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Bro and Pops ordered Calamansi juice while I went for Gulaman, which is a syrupy sweet brown sugar drink with a jelly like substance, similar to cincau or agar. It was a tad too sweet even for me, so you might want to skip this if you don’t like sugary drinks.

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Of course, I had to get my favourite order, Sisig, consisting of chopped pig head with onions, chilli peppers, calamansi and egg, served on a sizzling hotplate. The parts of the pig’s head create a medley of interesting textures: you get the crunch from the cartilage, and soft and fatty bits from the jowls and cheeks. It’s definitely not a healthy dish, what with the fat and grease, but it’s oh-so-sinful.

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I usually come here alone, so I haven’t had the chance to try dishes like the Pininyahang Manok, which is chicken braised in coconut milk, pineapples, carrots, potatoes and bell peppers. My parents found the flavour ‘very odd’, but I liked it because it reminded me of Chinese-style buttermilk, albeit with a slightly sour aftertaste. Not a fan of bell peppers in general, but I don’t think the taste was very pronounced. The chicken was cooked well, and the carrots were done just right; soft without being mushy.

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Bro had Embosilog. The name comes from the dish’s three main components: Embotido (pork meatloaf), Sinangag (garlic fried rice) and Itlog (egg). Nipped a bit from his plate and was impressed. The fried rice was very fragrant and the meatloaf was tasty.

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Grilled pork intestines for sharing. I know some people will find it off-putting but I actually enjoy the slightly gamey smell 😛

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The chicken inasal (grilled chicken thigh) was humongous. Among all of the dishes, I think this was my least favourite. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t exceptional either.

PS: If you’re wondering why we didn’t order Filipino signatures like sinigang (a tamarind-based stew) and adobo (pork cooked in vinegar and soy sauce), it’s because my mom has intestinal and stomach problems, and she can’t take spicy, oily, or sour food. Which ruled out many options because a lot of Filipino dishes are sour, and some of the good ones are oily (lechon, crispy pata).

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Having been to the Philippines many times, I think I have a good grasp of Filipino flavours – but I think my parents found it quite foreign and unlike anything they had tasted before. My mom commented that the food takes some getting used to, while my brother said, “I’m not sure what to make of it. With Thai food or Malay food, you get a distinct flavour profile that is easily recognisable. But these dishes are hard to identify.”

They both make valid points. The Philippines has a unique culture, being the only country in Southeast Asia that was occupied by the Spanish for well over 400 years. The cuisine has strong Spanish and Latin influence, which is why you’ll find dishes like adobo, chiccharon, flan, picadillo and empanadas gracing the dinner table in Filipino and Latino homes. At the same time, it also has distinct Malay influences, as evidenced by the Pininyahang Manok we ordered, which uses coconut milk – a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cooking. There are also dishes like the kare-kare (beef tripe cooked in peanut butter, influenced by Indian cuisine), and lumpia (spring rolls, from Chinese culture).

For me personally, I like some dishes, and some other dishes not so much. The hubs says I blaspheme because I don’t like the taste of Choco Butternut, but hey, you can’t expect every single non-Malaysian to fall head over heels with nasi lemak, right? (although I have yet to meet someone who didn’t like nasi lemak, lol).

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The Narra also sells imported products from the Philippines, such as corned beef, banana ketchup (mom: WHAT?) and Mang Tomas (pork liver sauce).

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I usually get Piattos (they call it Jigs here in Malaysia – although it’s super difficult to find these days), but the restaurant was out of stock, so I got some Lucky Mee Pancit Canton to take home instead.

Our meal (plus my snacks) came up to about RM120. I think we went a bit overboard – could have made do with 3 dishes instead of four – but the price was fairly reasonable given the portions.

If you’re Malaysian and curious about how Filipino cuisine tastes like, The Narra is a good place to try authentic Filipino food. If you’re a Filipino residing in Malaysia, the dishes and the atmosphere (the servers sing Filipino songs while they go about their work, and the resto is always playing OPM) will surely remind you of home.

THE NARRA FILIPINO RESTO LOUNGE

G001 Dataran Millennium, Jalan 14/1, 46100 Petaling Jaya, Selangor

Opening hours: 10.30AM – 9.30PM (Saturdays 11.30PM)

Phone: 03-7498 1061

https://www.facebook.com/thenarraresto/

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Review: Ticket To Korea, Setiawalk Puchong

Setiawalk Puchong has seen better days. Once the hottest hangout spot in Puchong, the place has been on a decline, especially in the last few years. There aren’t many restaurants left, but one that has been around since the mall’s inception is Ticket to Korea. Despite having been to Setiawalk many times, I have never thought to try them out — so a recent lunch date with my friend H was as good a time as any.

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The restaurant’s interior is brightly lit by natural sunlight and the space feels cosy and welcoming. A young couple whom I assume to be the owners greeted us enthusiastically, and we were quickly given menus. Aside from authentic Korean fare the likes of bulgogi and pajeon (pancake), diners will also find popular fusion dishes like Korean-style pork ribs with cheese, hot plate cheesy corn, and kimchi quesadilla.

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H ordered a bibimbap bowl, which came in a huge portion — I think it was good enough for two small eaters. It was beautifully presented, with generous heapings of vegetables, grilled pork belly, shredded cucumber, carrots and seaweed, topped off with a fried egg. It was delicious; the sweet and savoury sauce brought everything together really well.

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Despite the sweltering heat outside, I went for the Kimchi Ramen (because I’m masochist that way lol).

The bowl looked fiery red when it came to the table; there were soft slices of tofu swimming within, and the soup’s colour contrasted nicely with the enoki mushrooms and spring onion garnish on top. The soup was the bomb. Some places cut corners and add more kimchi paste, which means you get watery, ‘flavoured’ soup — but with this, I could really taste the texture of fibrous, blended vegetables, and there was a good amount of kimchi within as well. It was thick and sour, perfect for whetting the appetite, and the slight viscosity meant that the soup clung to each strand of ramyeon for maximum flavour. Did I also mention that the pork slices were super tender and had a great ratio of lean and fat?

The owners kept popping by to our table to check if I was okay with the heat. The soup was rather spicy, but hey — what’s pleasure without a bit of pain? *wink wink

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To wash everything down, a cold glass of coffee with condensed milk.
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We had a nice surprise at the end, compliments of the house — ice cream, served on a cold stone plate. They were drizzled over with what tasted like honey, and cookie shavings. Definitely a sweet end to a satisfying meal.

There are lots of good things to say about our dining experience here: the service was impeccable, the dishes that we tried tasted excellent, and prices were not too steep (our meal for two came up to about RM60). I wouldn’t mind a return visit !

PS: They have another branch at Tropicana Avenue, PJ.

TICKET TO KOREA

C-8-1, Block C, Setiawalk, Persiaran Wawasan, Jalan Wawasan 1/1, Taman Wawasan, 47160 Puchong, Selangor

Opening hours: 12PM – 11PM (daily)

facebook.com/tickettokoreafinedining

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This Might Just Be The Best Halal Ramen in Malaysia: Ramen Seirock-Ya, IOI Mall Puchong

Tonkotsu has always been my favourite type of ramen. I mean, what can compare to a bowl of chewy, al-dente noodles, swimming in a rich, savoury pork broth?

The answer: Tori-Paitan, aka Chicken ramen.

Up until recently, I had not heard of this type of ramen – but apparently it’s quite popular in many parts of Japan, especially Osaka, where it is said to originate from. Just like tonkotsu, the broth is simmered for hours with chicken bones and meat, until it’s bursting with umami flavour.

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Now, Malaysians can also indulge in this scrumptious fare at Ramen Seirock-Ya, a ramen restaurant specialising in Tori-Paitan. Founded in Tsukuba City in 2009, the brand has been expanding to parts of Southeast Asia with a large Muslim demographic, including Malaysia and Indonesia. It’s excellent news for our Muslim friends out there who love ramen (which is normally made with pork), since the brand is halal-certified by JAKIM.

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The outlet at IOI Mall Puchong is spacious and comfortable. You check off the items you want on a chit, make payment at the counter, and they’ll send the food to your table.
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The signature is, of course, their Tori-Paitan ramen, which comes in several variants including Extreme (the must-try), Shoyu (soy-sauce based), Shio (salt-based) and Miso. You can also decide if you want the basic, or with additional egg or chicken slices. The noodles come with a slice of lemon – the servers recommend savouring the original flavour of the broth first, before adding the lemon, which gives it a slightly different taste.

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The noodles are good – well cooked, al dente and springy – but the broth is the real star here. After being boiled for hours, the flavour of the meat is condensed into the lip-smacking broth, and the taste is further accentuated by fried shallots and spring onions. Despite the amount of oil swimming on the surface, it does not taste greasy at all.

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On another visit, I ordered a plate of pan-fried chicken gyoza. They were crispy and slightly brown on the outside, and juicy and moist on the inside with lots of vegetables – no complaints here.

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Order a side of fried chicken karaage – expertly marinated and deep fried to golden perfection – before washing down your meal with a cold (or warm) glass of green tea.

If you’re not keen on the signature, also on the menu are items like Tan-Tan Men (a Japanese take on Chinese Sichuan dan dan mian), Tsukemen (cold noodles dipped in hot soup), Japanese curry rice, katsu don and chahan (fried rice) among others. Prices are actually more affordable than my favourite ramen place (which, sadly, has become so popular now that it’s impossible to dine-in without at least a 45-minute wait), ranging around RM18 – RM30 for most mains.

RAMEN SEIROCK-YA (IOI MALL PUCHONG)

1F Food Street, IOI Mall Puchong, Bandar Puchong Jaya, Puchong, Selangor
Tel: +603 5882 1262
Business Hours: 10AM – 10PM (last order 9.30PM)

HALAL

seirock-ya.com.my

*Opinions here are my own. Feel free to agree/disagree with mtaste buds.

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Meal for Two: S’mores, Bangsar South

The Moomin’s eye doctor is located at Nexus Bangsar South, so I’ve been hanging around the neighbourhood a lot lately (her eye is much better now, but we’ve been doing follow-ups regularly because it wasn’t healing as quickly as it should due to age).

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On one of these follow-ups, we checked into S’mores for lunch. The place has been around since Nexus opened and touts itself as a “friendly neighbourhood bistro that promises the coldest beers” and “the most authentic charcoal and wood fire cooked western delights”. It was a weekday and the restaurant was packed with office workers, but service was still fast, attentive and friendly. The resto has a nice, chill vibe, a large bar and an al-fresco dining area.

The menu is mostly Western (think pastas, pizzas, ribs and burgers), with some Asian favourites thrown in (nasi lemak, laksa, meehoon). The Moomins and I ordered set lunches (RM16.90++) which came with a drink.

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Smores looks like a great place for a beer or two with colleagues after work
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The Moomin’s Spaghetti Bolognese. Portions were very generous.
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My carbonara spaghetti came in a huge serving, topped with heaps of Parmesan cheese. The pasta was cooked al dente, and it was creamy without being cloying (to me, at least), with generous bits of bacon. Solid dish, no complaints. Those who don’t like rich flavours might want to give it a pass though.

S’MORES

Nexus, Bangsar South, Unit G7, Ground Floor, Jalan Kerinchi, 59200 Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 11AM – 12AM (daily)

smores.com.my

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Ying Jia Dimsum and Seafood Restaurant, Happy Garden KL

Sometimes, restaurants have to be versatile and offer different items on the menu to entice customers – like Ying Jia Restaurant in Happy Garden KL, which serves dimsum by day and dai chow fare by night.

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The Moo and I had originally wanted to eat dimsum at Phang Kee, a popular stall just a few shops away, but since it was packed, we ended up here instead. The restaurant is very spacious, and even though it isn’t air conditioned, it does not feel hot thanks to the high ceilings and large fans. Orders are made on a chit.

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We got the usual favourites: har gao, chee cheong fun and minced pork meat with fish maw.

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Chee cheong fun with shrimp filling
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Har gao was sizable and tasted pretty good.
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The restaurant has a novel way of keeping their dishes ‘protected’ – by using a plastic bottle with the top half cut open to act as a ‘shield’.

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Shanghai siew loong bao are conveniently served on spoons for easy eating. The dumplings are steamed together with cabbage, which imparts the skin with the natural sweetness of vegetables. The broth is flavourful and the skin’s thickness is just right.

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Salted egg custard buns. The colour is lighter than the ones I’m used to from my favourite dimsum place, but they’re nice and fluffy. I think the inside could have used more custard, though. Tasty nonetheless.

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And last but not least, ‘salad prawns’ – essentially deep fried shrimp dumplings. These are my favourite and a must-order whenever I go to any dimsum shop. The version here is done well; crispy and flaky shell, juicy, bouncy shrimps enveloped within. Best eaten with mayonnaise and washed down with lots of hot tea.

Overall, I found the dimsum at Ying Jia pretty good and value for money. The owners themselves are out and about serving customers, and service is fast and friendly.

YING JIA DIMSUM & SEAFOOD RESTAURANT

1, Jalan Lazat 1, Taman Bukit Indah, 58200 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 7.30AM – 2PM, 5PM – 9PM (closed for dinner on Tuesdays)

*Opinions here are my own. Feel free to agree/disagree with my taste buds.

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Sushi Zanmai, Main Place Mall USJ

Back when I worked in PJ, I used to frequent Sushi Zanmai at Jaya Shopping Centre, which was just a 10-minute-drive from my office. I went there so often the server could anticipate my order even before I placed it (one plate of fried mushrooms, one bowl of rice and one portion of chuuka idako. Lol.) Unfortunately, I haven’t been back since transitioning to a fully WFH setup, which means that I haven’t had Sushi Zanmai for… well over a year.

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I didn’t realise how much I’ve missed it until I walked past the Sushi Zanmai outlet at Main Place Mall in USJ recently. Of course, memories of my favourite mushroom-rice-octopus combo came flooding back, and I had to stop by for lunch. It was a weekday afternoon so the place was empty and service was fast.

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The aesthetics are pretty standard across all of their outlets – wooden dividers, lots of beige, booth seating for privacy, plush pleather seats, and an open kitchen where you can watch the chefs in action.

I’m a creature of habit, so of course…

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Did you imagine I’d order anything else? lol

For some reason, the chuuka idako (baby octopus) came in a bigger portion than I remembered. Not that I’m complaining. The seafood was well marinated in a savoury sauce that brought out its natural sweetness, enhanced with a sprinkling of sesame and served atop a bed of salad.

One great thing about Sushi Zanmai is the consistent quality between outlets; so you get pretty much the same taste from one outlet as you do at any other.

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Not forgetting my favourite fried shimeji mushrooms, served with a small dollop of Japanese-style mayonnaise. The batter was perfectly crispy and salty, but the mushrooms retained their moistness on the inside.

There’s something about eating fluffy white rice with fried items, be they mushrooms or fried chicken wings; perhaps not the healthiest option, but oh-so-satisfying nonetheless.

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To switch things up beyond my usual trinity of orders (also because I haven’t had Japanese food for some time), I ordered kaki furai (fried oysters) and soft shell crab inari. They did not disappoint; the oysters were fresh, nicely battered and not greasy, while the inari and soft shell crab offered a great blend of textures and sweet and savoury flavours. Solid sushi!

Main Place Mall is much closer to where I live, so I guess I’ll be coming here now whenever I crave my Japanese food fix.

Service is friendly and efficient, prices are above average. If you come on weekends there might be a wait.

SUSHI ZANMAI (MAIN PLACE MALL USJ BRANCH)

Lot No.21, Second Floor, The Main Place, Jalan USJ 21/10, Persiaran Kewajipan, 47630 Subang Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan.

Opening hours: 10AM – 10PM

https://www.supersushi.com.my/mainplace.php

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Thong Kee Kopitiam, Puchong – One of Puchong’s Best Breakfast Spots

A classic Malaysian breakfast typically consists of toast with kaya and butter plus half boiled eggs, washed down with a nice cup of coffee or tea. You will find this and more at Thong Kee Kopitiam in Puchong. The shop also ups the ante with something you’d normally see in bakeries rather than kopitiams: croissants.

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Originally from Pahang, Thong Kee started off as a humble establishment in the small town of Bentong. Like many kopitiams, the fare served here has Hainanese origins (The Hainanese people emigrated to Malaya during the British occupation. Most worked as cooks for the British; hence the ‘Western’ style of breakfast ie toast with butter and jam + coffee that is often served at kopitiams today. It is a uniquely Southeast Asian thing which you will not find in the Hainanese community in China.) Eventually, the brand grew popular enough that they expanded to the Klang Valley, with an outlet in Seapark and another in Puchong.

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The early bird gets the worm, or in this case… the croissant.

All of their outlets enjoy brisk business, so it’s best to come as early as possible if you want avoid the queues. The fam and I came around 7.45AM on a weekend and the place was already quite packed. There is a huge open-air kitchen with dozens of staff preparing drinks and food.

Take note of your table number, give it to the cashier when you make your order, pay on the spot, and wait for your food to be served. Aside from toast with butter and kaya, you can also go for items like doughnuts, and croissants with various fillings (ham, ham and cheese, egg, otak-otak, etc.)

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The original Thong Kee is famous for its 1+1 – a blend of Hainanese coffee and tea – so I ordered a glass to try.

The drink comes served with a layer of foam on top, and the coffee is strong and fragrant. It is similar to Ipoh white coffee; ie sweet and aromatic. I think the tea helps to make the beverage smoother, but the coffee is pretty strong so I barely tasted any tea.

Trivia: Unlike Western coffee, making Hainanese coffee usually involves roasting the beans with salt, sugar and margarine, imparting it with a rich, robust fragrance with a distinctly caramelized flavour. The coffee is then filtered through a long sock-like cloth multiple times.

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Not forgetting the star of the show, we ordered a few croissants to share. The texture is superb – crispy, flaky, buttery and soft on the inside. The fillings are deceptively simple – ham and egg, or a slab of butter and kaya spread – but everything comes together perfectly.

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If you’re not in the mood for bread, there are other stalls at the kopitiam as well, selling dishes like nasi lemak and pan mee.

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If you’re looking for a quick bite to go, or something you can bring home, the shop also sells freshly baked loaves, homemade kaya and curry puffs.

The croissants are priced around RM7.90 +, depending on filling.

THONG KEE (PUCHONG)

G-01 Puchong Square, Jalan Layang – Layang 5, Bandar Puchong Jaya, 47170 Puchong, Selangor

Opening hours: 7.30AM – 4.30PM

thongkee.com.my

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Strangers at 47, SS17 Petaling Jaya – Sweet and Savoury Crepes

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Living in the Klang Valley, there are plenty of cool and chic cafes to check out every other week. But competition is pretty fierce, and if you don’t have something to draw in the crowds (like good food, impeccable service and an Instagrammable interior), you’re likely to fold just as quickly as you set up shop.

Strangers at 47, though, has been a long-time stalwart on the cafe scene. As one of the pioneers in the SS17 area, the shop has a stable fanbase, who come for their delicious crepes, and it has even expanded from a single shop lot to include two adjacent spaces, providing diners with a comfortable and more spacious dining experience.

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My last visit here was in 2015. Yes, I am aware that it was 6 years ago lol. The signature mural of a fox and a bear upon entering the restaurant is still there.
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Although the space is much bigger now, the theme has not changed much, and still features a minimalistic look, with communal-style long tables for larger groups, cosy booths, wooden tables and warm yellow lights.

Stringent SOPs are in place before customers are allowed to enter the shop for dine-in. At the entrance, aside from scanning your temperature and registering yourself via MySejahtera, a staff member will also explain the house rules, such as wearing masks while moving around the cafe (except when you’re eating/drinking). You are also allowed to stay for a maximum of 1.5 hours only. It’s a good thing we came early, as the line started building up after 11.30am.

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For hygiene purposes, there are no printed menus. Diners scan a digital menu using a QR code scanner.

You can view their menu here.

My Hot Cappucino (RM11) was nice and milky, but not too sweet.

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The Moomins is trying to eat less meat these days, so we ordered Lethal Shrooms (RM19.50); one of the cafe’s signatures that has been on the menu since they opened. An assortment of sauteed mushrooms such as portobello, shimeji and baby king oysters mushrooms, plus sauteed baby spinach and caramelised onions are wrapped in a thin savoury crepe, then topped with tomato relish, poached egg and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. I recommend ordering this if you’re not sure what to order; it never fails to disappoint.

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If seafood is more your thing, there’s Miss Dory (RM22.50), comprising breaded and deep fried to golden perfection fish fillet, battered squid, citrus-cucumber onion salad, potato pumpkin mash, roasted cherry tomatoes and homemade sriracha mayo lime. All the flavours and textures — the crunchy from the fish and squid, the soft and smooth pumpkin mash plus the tangy cherry tomatoes and mayo lime — come together wonderfully.

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Aside from savoury crepes, Strangers at 47 has a selection of sweet crepes as well. Unfortunately we were too stuffed to order any.
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The cafe offers cakes too. The Cendolier Cheesecake (RM14.50 per slice) is a house specialty. You can also take home homemade kimchi, kaya and homebrewed kombucha.

Service here is excellent, albeit a little slow as the crepes are made to order. If you’re here over the weekend, come early to avoid the crowd, or be prepared for a wait.

STRANGERS AT 47

45, 47 & 49, Jalan 17/45, Seksyen 17, 46400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor

Opening hours: 10AM – 9PM (Closed Tuesdays).

Phone: 03-7498 1034

facebook.com/strangersat47