A Bit Casual Eating Out

Ping Coombes’ Malaysian Breakfast Club at Chi Kitchen, Marylebone

February 2, 2017

I have a love, hate, hate relationship with breakfast which manifests itself in a vicious cycle. It starts with a week of enthusiasm where I’m eating breakfast daily, religiously, and can’t even contemplate starting my day without it. Unfortunately that enthusiasm wanes as we enter week two; I realise I don’t actually need to eat it every day to survive, in fact, I can survive every day without it. After a week of that, the guilt sets in. I know it’s the most important meal of the day, I know it’s good for me, and so I resolve to make an effort the next week… and on and on it goes.

Every so often the cycle halts momentarily, usually coinciding with one of our weekend breaks or longer escapes. I’m always a breakfast fan then. I like nitpicking through bountiful breakfast buffets, I love having an excuse to eat pastries all morning long because it’s the done thing in France, Spain or Portugal, and more recently I rediscovered my love of eating rice and noodles for breakfast in Malaysia. Seems a tad unusual for those of us who grew up eating cereal and toast in the mornings, but heck, I love noodles and rice, why not eat them for breakfast as well as lunch and dinner.

Tempted to try it for yourself? The good news is that you can without having to book a plane ticket to Asia, the bad news is that after a morning at Ping Coombes’ Malaysian Breakfast Club at Chi Kitchen, you might be jumping on Skyscanner for a look after all. Trust me, I’ve been there, done that. I was instantly transported back to sunnier days in Malaysia as soon as I had my first sip of teh tarik, a tea sweetened with condensed milk which is a breakfast staple all over the country. I’m a big fan so was more than happy with the constant top up, but for those who might find it a touch on the sugary side, there was coffee on offer, as well as a cheeky glass of prosecco if you fancied it. I did.

The first dish, a small bowl of hot chicken congee, enveloped me in a wave of nostalgia. Anytime we had leftover Hainanese chicken rice, it would be turned into a congee or ‘juk’ for lunch the next day, or when we were sick, this was our version of chicken soup. Just like the one mum used to make, this version was just as nourishing and full of flavour from the chicken and fresh ginger. The consistency of the congee was not at all cloying, and there was a great contrast of textures from the raw ginger, crumbled eggs,  and crispy fried shallots. But the highlight for me were the fried ‘yau tiu’ or doughnut sticks – I particularly like it when the crunchy slices start to get a little chewy as they soak up some of the congee!

Having so many courses at breakfast seems more indulgent than usual, but the servings are small… no need to feel too guilty. A Malacca speciality was served next – laksa kahwin with keow teow noodles, fishballs, tofu puffs, prawns and pineapple. My family is from Malacca so this is another dish close to my heart; kahwin means marriage in Malay which is quite an appropriate name for this laksa as it’s a combination of the creamy Nyonya style laksa and the tangier assam laksa from Penang.

I’m not the biggest fan of assam laksa so I was pleased that this combination was just a little stronger in flavour towards the Nyonya side. My only quibble would be about the noodles; personally I prefer the round egg noodles or even a mix of that and vermicelli to the flat rice noodles in a laksa, I find they’re more robust and hold together better in the broth. That aside, the flavour was smooth, warming and very comforting, especially on that particularly wet and wild London morning.

This breakfast was turning into a bit of a marathon, two courses down and we still had dessert to come – Sago Gula Melaka is another favourite of mine and such a simple but effective concoction. It only consists of cooked and chilled sago drizzled with melted gula Melaka, an intensely dark and sticky palm sugar, and coconut milk. These three ingredients work harmoniously but Ping’s version also had pandan, a fragrant leaf common to many Malaysian desserts, infused into the coconut milk which added a refreshing, floral element. It’s such a fuss-free dessert, I definitely have to try it at my next dinner party!

Just before we bundled ourselves back up in our coats and scarves to face the dire London day, we were treated to a little ginger and apple shot. This sweet and tangy juice was meant to revitalise us and aid digestion, but more than anything – it just made me smile. The concept of having something at the end of the meal to ‘aid digestion’ is just so Malaysian, I can actually imagine my mum and aunts handing me something similar and saying those exact words!

Whether or not it works, who knows, who cares… it was very tasty. As was the rest of our breakfast which basically became brunch and lunch all rolled into one! If you’re keen on a different kind of breakfast, one that doesn’t involve toast, cereal or eggs… keep an eye out for the next Malaysian Breakfast Club!

Are you a regular breakfast eater or are you as terrible as I am at making it part of my day?

Thanks to Ping Coombes and the team at Chi Kitchen for filling me up with my favourite rice and noodles dishes for breakfast, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!

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