Monch! The Café Hopper’s Version of Great Places (Brunei)

Written by: Cheah Wei Shang 

Pictures and private jet owner: Ivan Liew

Ah, Brunei. One of the smallest countries in the world, population just barely below the 500 thousands, while also one of the richest in the world. Right now, it’s one of the safe havens of the world, having had barely any local COVID transmissions since June. So, you know what that means, we’re going on an adventure! A cross-country food adventure!

Well, kind of. The places we’re going to visit essentially are in two towns, Bandar Seri Begawan (the capital) and Kuala Belait, on nearly diametrically opposite sides of the country. This adventure is focused on taste and also equally important, environment.

First stop, for brunch, Mr Baker’s Cafe

Our first out of two in Bandar Sri Begawan, the storefront may look like a bakery at first, and indeed, walking in you would see the typical bakery’s paraphernalia; the glass displays with assortments of pastries and cakes, but also a generous seating area, which you then realize this is also a café.

It’s obviously a café

The environment of the café gives out a very casual Saturday daytime-nightmode vibe, opting for a very well lit room with dark walls and light accents. Seating is ample and spacious, long hours would pass by comfortably. Food-wise, the café serves up a basic variety of beverages – coffee, teas, milkshakes – and sandwiches.

Hot Mochaccino
Smoked Salmon Wrap and Portobello Mushroom Ciabatta

The order was a Smoked Salmon Wrap and a Portobello Mushroom Ciabatta, with a Banana Milkshake and a hot Mochaccino. Both dishes came with a side of rocket and red radish salad, and all in all, it was a decent meal. Come here for the ambience, and maybe stay for the meal if you’re treating yourself.

Food – 7.5

Environment – 8

Service – 8 

Second, for dinner, Danes Café (Non-Halal)

The sun is setting, and you’re probably feeling a little peckish. And you definitely want some (non-halal) meat with your potatoes. Danes Café is just a short while away!

A reminder of the times we live in

Walking in, you’re greeted with a very distinctively un-Asian setting. Hardwood walls and concrete floors and warm dimmed sodium-yellow lights, it feels like a small world tucked away from the city outside. Colourful murals adorn the walls, and for October, Halloween jack-o-lanterns and spooky spiderwebs hung from the ceiling. Combine these together to get a sweet dinner ambience for your typical Friday night – quiet, pleasant and homely – with the promises of the weekend.

Kewl

The seating was around the mid-range of spacious: comfortable with the potential of clashing elbows. Meanwhile, the menu is a broad Western selection with a hint of Asian; burgers, noodles, salads and all-day breakfast, with beverages along the same line. 

Danes’ Kolo Mee
Pork Meatball Pasta

Our picks were the Danes’ Kolo Mee and Pork Meatball Pasta, which both delivered in terms of taste! Of course, Danes specializes in all matters pork related, so pick a pork dish. Overall, come for dinner, stay for dinner, and enjoy the nice environment Danes has created for you.

 Food – 8/10

Environment – 9/10 (Changes seasonally!)

Service 7.5/10

Third stop, breakfast or brunch? The Corner House

Now imagine, you’ve done whatever you’ve wanted in the city, and have travelled (at 10km/h) overnight to Kuala Belait. The sun has risen a few hours ago, and now it’s breakfast time, but you also want a bed.

Is it a hotel?

Turns out, it’s a B&B. From the outside, you might think, is this the 1960s? The outside of the building might be reminiscent of the past colonial era, but the café inside is a pleasant postmodern (read: lots of white), halfway-minimalist/industrialist aesthetic. The café itself was located on the top floor of the building, so looking out of the window gives you a picturesque view of the Sungai Belait river. This, combined with very generous seating space, created a nice morning vibe.

Come for the river. No, really do

If you’re following the exact route of our adventure, this would easily be the highlight of your trip, food-wise. Hence, I’m going to lay down the details more than I have previous dishes.

Pancakes; it’s just called Pancakes

Let’s get something straight: the gold standard of pancakes is and always will be – fluffy. And the pancakes here were just that. And when you two stacks of those with chocolate sauce, seasonal fruit (bananas this time) and apple crumble AND topping it with whipped cream and cinnamon powder, it becomes a dish fit for the gods. Ambrosia from Olympus itself.

Pulled Sandwich

I don’t think I’ve salivated this much at a picture: Pulled Beef Sandwich. It has pulled beef, caramelized onions, homemade BBQ and garlic yoghurt sauce on a toasted brioche bun with coleslaw on the side. Pulled meat is meant to be meat cooked on hours till tender, and this beef was just that.

Pair these with Chai Latte and Berry Crush Loose Leaf Tea, and it’ll be a meal to remember. A true package of a place, come for the food, environment and service.

Food – 9

Environment – 8

Service – 9

Last stop, 晩ごはん(dinner) in Japan, Kaizen Sushi

Don’t knock on this wood

I think there has been enough said about Japanese aesthetics on and outside the Internet, that I don’t need to elaborate. Clean, simple, nicely lit and welcoming, I always think the all wood builds of the restaurants in Japan should be a standard to aim for. The seating was comfortable, ambience nice and quiet, gold stars all around. A classic Japanese restaurant.

What a spread

To this date, it’s undeniably the best sushi ever. Kaizen Maki, Jurassic Maki, Tori Furai Cheese, Sake Belly Aburi Sushi and more, I must say “damn!”. Easily beats any local chain sushi joints. The rice was sticky but not too sticky, a feature of great sushi rice, while the toppings especially were just delicious. It almost felt like Japan.

Kaizen Maki

This dish, Kaizen Maki, is 100% worth a mention. A typical maki roll, coated with salmon roe and a sprinkle of sesame seeds, with soft-shelled crab inside topped with a piece of deep fried salmon, is a wondrous palette of flavours from the sea. Just amazing.

Come here for everything. Just the best.

Food – 9.5

Environment – 9

Service – 9

And with that we declare Brunei… MONCH Approved!

This marks the end of our adventure, thanks for tuning in!

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