Café-Bistrot David By David & Darren Chin
Long lauded for breaking down barriers between chefs and their clientele, the open kitchen is a primary feature of Café-Bistrot David (CBD), which enjoyed several weeks of success before Malaysia's MCO dropped the curtain on all operations.
On March 12, however, business couldn't have been better. My mate was running late for our 1pm lunch date, but people watching kept me plenty occupied: dressed to the nines, ladies who lunch daintily dismantled their pies, while a band of merrymakers uncorked bottle after bottle of red.
The ceiling behind the counter, a beautiful ochre burnished with gold and flecked with robin egg blue, resembles speckled sunlight or Claude Monet's plein air paintings. And beneath this vaulted ceiling simmered a pot spilling forth a giddying aroma, one more associated with Cantonese or Hokkien kitchens and less with Parisian chic bistros.
"Is that chai buey?" I asked of Darren Chin, who spun around distractedly. He seemed almost surprised to spot the gurgling pot.
"Yes, but I wouldn't know how to make it," confessed the chef. "That's dad's dish, which goes really well with our roast duck, white rice and house-made chilli sauce." He returned to his scrutiny of the Pecorino Romano croissants before him, admiring his own handiwork before deeming them worthy of being served. There is no overstepping of boundaries in this father-son business.
In came the £100 Peking duck, whole and lacquered red and gold like a baby put through a fairground toffee apple machine.
— Giles Coren, British food writer & television presenter
If the glistening ducks dangling in the window don't stop you in your tracks, something or other about Café-Bistrot David's facade on Jalan Aminuddin Baki will peak your interest. How many other restaurants have red velvet queue barriers, the kind normally seen at the opera?
Once you've settled in (snag seats at the kitchen-facing bar if you're a solo diner or a couple) and warmed up your jaw (praise be to carbs, especially in the form of Café-Bistro David's complimentary bread basket), sit back and drink in the details. Everything breathes character, from the framed swatches of batik to the linocut illustrations of fantastic flora and fauna. The latter, which local art enthusiasts should be able to pinpoint, highlight the creativity of Sharon Chin, an artist in the family who prefers painting to plating.
You are now ready to order.
Burrata, a dish with a cult following at Bref by Darren Chin, finds new expression at Café-Bistrot David. Slick sardine fillets are swapped for crispy beef cecina, which work just as beautifully. The edible violas, on the other hand, feel a lot like gilding the lily.
Likewise, shaven AOP Pecorino Romano on croissants sound swell, but do little for the chunky chips accompanying CBD's showstopper. The Wagyu burger, which Darren Chin is selling from his home at present, costs a whopping RM65 at the restaurant. Foot the hefty price tag if you're a first-timer, if only to experience the 'Croll', a hybrid between a croissant and a roll. Fans of pickles, who normally save that sweet-sour rush for their final bite, will be pleased to find CBD's burger packed with ample acidity.
A naturally fatty fish, the black cod (not pictured) swims in so much butter that you might want to check your blood pressure after. Served on a bed of sopping spinach, the dish is indubitably delicious, but no one in our party of three volunteers to polish off the last bite.
In a funny story my other half likes to tell, a masseuse once used her fingers to knead his lips—of all body parts! CBD's cacio e pepe and its lingering warmth reminds me of this anecdote.
Unlike some iterations of the peppery pasta, which dropkick you in the mouth with overwhelming spice, the slightly soupy dish at CBD imparts a pleasant, tingling sensation.
Only two desserts grace CBD's menu, and they are classics that need no introduction. Saving the chocolate mousse for another time, we turned our undivided attention to the Crêpes Suzette. Historians may dispute whether the dessert was inspired by Prince Edward VII's lover or an actress at the Comédie Français in Paris, but one thing's for certain: after a meal of heady truffles, smoked meats and viscous egg yolks, citrusy notes make the ideal finishing stroke.
This is food packed with so much love that it seeps under your skin, creating soft folds where before there was taut flesh. How Darren Chin’s beautiful wife stays willowy is anybody’s guess.
- Photography Khairul Imran