Giles enjoys this one off experience but is not sure spicy breakfasts are quite his cup of tea.
Ping Coombes has been busy. Since winning the BBC’s Masterchef UK in 2014, she has published her own cook book (Malaysia Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Recipes from a family kitchen), hosted supper clubs and city pop ups, made guest appearances on television, instructed at cookery schools and as of more recently, she has turned her eye to South East Asian breakfasts.
For those of you that aren’t versed in breakfast from South East Asian, expect curries, phos, rice, sweet cakes, endless variety, an array of colours and contrasting textures. For a dreary Brit like me more accustomed to toast and porridge, its exciting food.
Hosting a monthly Club at Chi Kitchen, a contemporary Pan-Asian restaurant in central London, Ping has been showcasing the wealth of South East Asian Breakfast food. Lured by the notion that you could eat curry for breakfast, I went along to Chi Kitchens to see what Ping had to offer.
Chi Kitchen is a funny place because unless instructed, you probably wouldn’t know it was there. Hidden behind the concrete monster of Debenhams, just off the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street, it doesn’t offer much from the outside.
Inside however the place comes alive. Firstly, it’s flooded with good lighting and cladded with lots of pine wood Ã¢â‚¬â€œ both features invoke a sense of calm and freshness to the dining area. Secondly, you can see the mechanics of the kitchen.
Service is done via a pass right in front of your eyes and most of preparation areas are in plain sight of the diners. I really enjoy this when eating out. Not only does it create a dynamic environment it also allows customers to make an emotional attachment with not only the food, but the chefs that prepare it.
My plus one and I were sat in a booth next to two very nice young ladies from New Zealand, one of which was also a food columnist and the other her plus one. Getting on well we chatted through each of the courses as they came.
First up was a refreshing shot of apple and ginger. All of us enjoyed this; it was simple, clean and refreshing, leaving you ready for something richer.
A Chicken Congee was next. Congee is a staple Chinese breakfast and eaten all over South East Asia. For those that haven’t tried a Congee, I would best describe it as saltier, mushier risotto. The rice is cooked with water or stock until it breaks down.
This version was served with poached chicken, garlic oil, fresh ginger, fried dough sticks and crumbled eggs. The chicken, having being poached and shredded, was moist and tender. Ping later informed me that the poaching liquor is used a stock to cook the rice in. Whilst homogenising all the different elements it also ensures nothing is wasted.
We all loved this dish, but only when the Congee was eaten with all of the elements, by itself the Congee was too salty.
The 3rd course was Lontong Johor, a specialty from the state of Johor in Malaysia. This particular recipe belonged to one of Chi Kitchen’s chefs. It was reminiscent of a Laksa with a rich, fragrant coconut gravy that included hints of fish sauce, chilli and turmeric.
Topped with a soft boiled egg and serunding (spicy fried coconut flakes) Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it was a rich and heart-warming dish. I would like to add that delicious as it was, eating a curry at 10AM was perhaps a little overwhelming. Both the ladies we sat with also noted that it was too fishy for that time in the morning. I didn’t mind the fishiness or the richness, however I would be far more inclined to serve this for lunch or supper.
Our final dish of the morning was Kuis Bingka Ubi, a baked cassava cake that is popular in Malaysia, Vietnam and The Philippines. Cassava is a woody root native to South and Central America but eaten across the tropics.
It was a dense cake with a wonderful turmeric yellow sponge. Unfortunately, when paired with the sourness of the yoghurt it didn’t work for me personally. Yoghurt is a brilliant accompaniment to sweet things, as it helps to take the edge off.
However in this case, the cake wasn’t sweet enough, which meant on some level it didn’t feel like a pudding at all. If you’re going to do a cake for pudding, it can’t be half hearted. I should add that my guest really enjoyed this dish, noting that the subtle sweetness of the cake would make a great accompaniment to a sweet Chai Tea.
Considering it’s not every day you eat spicy curries, salty rice and dense cake for breakfast, this was an intriguing dining experience, and one I was pleased to take part in. Hearing Ping speak about the inspiration behind the food Ã¢â‚¬â€œ memories of helping her grandmother preparing a Congee in Malaysia for example Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I was also delighted to see her passion and love for the food that’s closest to her heart.
Romanticising about the past to inform the present is an important quality in a chef. However when it boils down to breakfast, this is a one off experience I won’t be making a habit of. Call me boring, call me old fashioned, but curry and salty rice for breakfast just doesn’t sit right with me.
If you think you could be convinced by Ping’s South East Asian Breakfast then head to Chi Kitchen for her monthly Breakfast Club. The menu includes a four-course feast of traditional Malaysian breakfast dishes for £20 with unlimited tea or coffee, or £25 with unlimited tea or coffee and a glass of Prosecco. Find all the details online here.
Try Ping’s Gado Gado Recipe