The tale of 2 cafes in KL
It's like time has stood still from my days as a college student in Bandar Sunway, Selangor. Even after 10 years, the area surrounding one of the prominent colleges there is still a nightmare to navigate.
I drive around the block for the fifth time, narrowly avoiding the foot traffic of students preoccupied with their mobile devices. I am tempted to roll down the window and yell at these clueless kids, but a precious vacant parking spot diverts my attention.
Besides, there's no time to waste; I have two food review sessions to attend.
My first stop is Garage 51. Situated at the edge of the Bandar Sunway Light Industrial Park, among rows of auto workshops, the decor is artistic and a far cry from what it used to be - you guessed it, a dingy auto workshop.
Bought over by brothers Choong Kar Wai and Kar Heng two years ago, owners of the Coffee Societe group, Garage 51 is now definitely a place to see and be seen... by college students in the vicinity, that is.
It is lunch time and the cafe is packed mostly with the young 'uns with a few working adults in the mix. They must be the lecturers... the aversion of eye contact between the two groups of people says it all.
Almost at every table is a member of the "Garage Messed-Up Family" milkshakes - the latest addition to Garage 51's menu and the current craze among the patrons.
Priced at RM18.90 (S$6) each, the decadent milkshakes come in four different flavours - peanut butter (Father), green tea (Mother), Nutella (Son) and coconut (Daughter).
Son is my choice, and it comes topped with marshmallows, pretzels, honeyed cornflakes and cornballs. Immediately I know that I cannot return to ordinary milkshakes anymore after tasting this thick and sweet delight.
"It's the latest trend to hit Melbourne and we wanted to try it here. The response has been overwhelming. We ran out of milkshakes the first few days after we introduced it. Soon it will be available at all of our cafes in the Klang Valley," says Kar Heng.
Apart from Garage 51, the brothers also own Coffee Societe, Underground Societe and Procaffeinating - each with its own pull and menus. The only common factor is the coffee that is served at each outlet.
The boys are obsessed with the thriving and always-creative Melbourne cafe scene - where they got the inspiration to venture into the F&B industry. Here, they try to emulate the same business plan.
"Coffee is coffee, but food really plays an important role at the cafes there. They have really excellent breakfast and brunch menus and that is what we want to do at Garage 51 as well," says Kar Wai.
While Garage 51 may not be near serving "really excellent" food yet, their attempt is commendable.
The cafe has a decent brunch menu, ranging from the cheapest, sourdough bread with butter and raspberry jam or egg (RM6), to the Awesome Garage Breakfast (RM26).
The big breakfast comes with a poached egg, slices of beef salami, a jumbo sausage, avocado puree and wafers, and enokitake mushrooms on a bed of sourdough bread. There is also a side of bread with peanut butter and fresh strawberries. It is basic and fuss-free but importantly, filling.
I prefer the Morning Sunshine (RM20) - a mix of arugula, avocado, enokitake mushrooms and chicken chunks topped with an egg, sunny side up. I also try the Messy Garage Pancake with Bacon that comes with fresh strawberries, ice cream, beef bacon and maple syrup served in a syringe.
The food tastes good but it isn't anything that you cannot find at other cafes of similar capacity. They also have salads, soups and finger food such as nuggets and fries for those looking for light bites. Plating of the dish seems to be of utmost importance at Garage 51, and you can somewhat deduce that it is largely to excite the "photo first, eat later" kinda crowd that walks in here.
The brunch menu is available until 6pm daily, after which the cafe offers a selection of pasta, pan-fried dory fish, grilled chicken and smoked salmon.
I don't try the After Six menu, as I need space in my tummy for the food that awaits me at Underground Societe - just a few doors down from Garage 51. Locating the restaurant could be tricky, but you'll eventually figure out that US in "Come Join US" on the signboard stands for Underground Societe.
"We like to think that this is an alternative to Garage 51, a cafe that mainly serves restaurant-style food and coffee on the side," says Kar Heng.
The ambience is different here; it has a darker and slightly moodier interior but the clientele remains the same.
It's really a no-fuss place with tables and chairs and a service counter. Opened last year, the brothers use Underground Societe as a platform to introduce "serious" food to their customers.
"A cafe shouldn't just be tied to Eggs Benedict and big breakfast. Our forte is coffee, but we are moving towards the food industry with Underground Societe," says Kar Heng.
One of the items that stands out here is the platter of avocado quarters with pineapple salsa, stuffed mashed egg, couscous and cream. It spells a good start to a meal, and the grilled Slipper Lobster Benedict doesn't disappoint.
The lobsters, acquired from Sabah, are nicely grilled and the sweet flesh adds decadence to the otherwise mundane poach-ed eggs topped with Foyot sauce on charcoal buns.
The Foyot sauce is a variation of the classic Bearnaise, with the addition of meat glaze. It has a meaty flavour that complements the tanginess of the Bearnaise, and is best served with grilled meat.
Here, the sauce also accompanies the grilled Atlantic salmon, which is served with broccoli and sauteed potatoes. The pink salmon flesh yields to the slightest nudge. However, I am more interested in the perfectly spiced and herbed potatoes that are soft and yummy.
We order the smoked salmon pizza, which has a minimum of 15-minute waiting time. While waiting, you could try the aromatic roasted highland pumpkin with cream soup or the French toast with Nutella.
The soup is thick and creamy, and the toasted pimento bread gives the well-seasoned soup the texture it lacks. The French toast with Nutella may not be an original idea, but what could possibly go wrong with this combination?
The pizza arrives and paints a pretty sight. The pink salmon flesh, capsicum and tomatoes peek from underneath a thin layer of cheese, and right in the middle is a sunny side-up egg. The combination may be unusual, but the taste is satisfactory. It is recommended for one person, but I am pretty sure you would need help to finish this pizza.
The pasta dishes are only served after 6pm, and do try the slipper lobster pasta with Italian pesto. Cooked al dente, the pasta tastes good and the pesto sauce has a nice nutty flavour to it. The lobster tastes fresh and succulent. Overall, I find the pasta slightly dry and would love for an extra drizzle or two of olive oil just to give it a silky feel.
But the highlight of Underground Societe has to be its impressive selection of desserts, and I particularly love the cooling, refreshing taste of the Underground Grenade.
A variation of the Baked Alaska Flambe, this dessert is simply the bomb. Ensconced in the Soft Italian meringue is a beautiful combination of peach and kalamansi sorbet and chocolate truffle, with a biscuit crumb base. Using a handheld torch, Kar Heng gives the meringue a nice, burnt effect.
We also try the Underground Fireball, a chocolate ball filled with coffee chocolate mousse, and served in a ring of chocolate soil and meringue.
The lit chocolate ball melts and the warm chocolate and the cold mousse taste amazing together. You can also order the non-alcoholic versions of these desserts.
My favourite, however, is the Underground Blossom, made of chocolate petals, and the magic happens when you pour the warm orange and hazelnut creme anglaise on top. The petals bloom to reveal a chocolate coffee mousse truffle.
Underground Societe also serves wine, champagne and a variety of cocktails on top of a good selection of coffee and tea.
The cafe serves Coffee on Tap, a drafted carbonated coffee that looks like stout but tastes like coffee. If anything, it is unusual.
Kar Wai and Kar Heng are definitely trying to up the ante on the food they serve at Underground Societe and Garage 51. Both establishments are fairly new, so there is plenty of time for them to perfect their menu.
Garage 51 and Underground Societe are places you can go with your family and friends for food and coffee that won't make a dent in your wallet, but be forewarned that you'd be jostling with the student population of the area. And for goodness' sake, do carpool.
68, Jalan PJS 11/7
46150 Subang Jaya
Tel: 03-5613 3851
Open 11am to 12am (Sun to Wed) and 11am to 2.30am (Thurs to Sat)
51, Jalan PJS 11/9
46150 Petaling Jaya
Tel: 03-5612 5618
Open 11am to 11pm daily