Take my breath away…

For dinner that night on the day the guys from Kuching arrived in Sibu, they wanted to go some place else but I was the chauffeur and I insisted that we went here (2.283419,111.833454) instead…

Payung Cafe decor

…so they did not have much of a choice. Hehehehehe!!! The moment they stepped into the place, they were stunned by the breathtaking exotic and ethnic decor and started taking photographs of every nook and cranny while I stood around and waited till they were done. So impressed was Gerald, with his background as an artist and officer in charge of Sarakraf, that he candidly and spontaneously remarked out loud, “This is what tourists would love to see!”

There was a party in their air-conditioned private function room on the second floor upstairs and since the guests had not arrived, I urged them to go up…

Payung Cafe up the stairs

…and have a look. Of course I just waited for them downstairs – walking is not in my vocabulary, much less climbing up stairs. LOL!!! When they came down again, they showed me the photographs that they had taken, full of praises and admiration of what they had seen.

For our dinner, I ordered my missus’ favourite, their green chicken curry…

Payung Cafe green chicken curry

…and yes, they all loved it a lot right down to the inclusion of the long beans and terung pipit (pea eggplant) in it! Besides his artist background, Gerald was also a restauranteur with an authentic Thai chef working under him and this was his comment on this dish when I shared the above photograph on Facebook: “Authenticity in taste is very important for me. Variations may come in as a unique individual signature but it should not be too far off if it carries the name. This one is close enough.

But of course, they never declare that this is the celebrated Thai favourite – there is no mention of that in the name of the dish and I would dare say that it may be even nicer than those at some self-proclaimed Thai restaurants that I had been to. That is the beauty of this place – it is not devoted to any specific cuisine though the dishes served here may be “inspired” by some popular dishes of some countries – a few of the names have been retained, not all, but the thing is they have been adapted, improved upon to make it their own like their otak-otak, for instance…

Payung Cafe otak-otak

One of the guys saw it on the menu and straightaway, he said that he wanted that to see if it was any better than what he had at Tangkak. I told him that the one here is unique, not the same as any other – north, south, east or west…and even if he had not said that he wanted it, I would have ordered that for them to try as it is definitely one of the best that this place has to offer. He loved it so much and sang its praises on and on while helping himself to more and more! I would say that he actually finished most of it himself.

Nobody touched the mushroom roll…

Payung Cafe mushroom roll

…when it was served until one of them tried and got all excited. It’s not soft, he said, it is crispy and so very nice, served hot from the oven. Upon hearing that, everyone tried and everyone loved it! They were trying to guess how it was done but I told them not to bother as my missus had tried and failed. This is a Payung original creation, one of the bestsellers at this cafe, and though it is classified under “western” probably by virtue of the fact that a lot of parmesan cheese is used in the preparation, I would not think it can be categorised as such nor is it really all that Asian – it’s just Payung!

Now, because they were all from Kuching and obviously had had their fair share of some very nice kacang ma chicken there, they were not very impressed by the one here…

Payung Cafe kacang ma chicken

One said that the leaves were not fried enough and another would like it a little more “hiam” (with a lot more ginger). Well, this is the only place here where this is available on a regular basis so at least, visitors/tourists can get to sample a bit of the traditional comfort food for convalescing women in confinement in Kuching, if they are not heading that way or have missed it there before coming to Sibu. For one thing, perhaps, this may go down better with those first-timers who have yet to acquire the taste for the local culinary delight as it is a little milder than those that the die-hards would prefer. I should have ordered the Payung fish for them instead – the ikan keli (catfish) cooked in what I believe to be the Foochow style – with soy sauce and ginger and at home, we would usually add the traditional Foochow red wine…or brandy, X.O. no less!

The Payung rojak

Payung rojak

…was a hit and it certainly is nothing like the regular ones that most everybody would be familiar with. There are no pineapples, no sengkuang/mangkuang (turnip) but there are the cucumber and tofu puffs…alongside the cabbage, four-angle beans, the torch ginger flower petals and belimbing (starfruit) leaves. The sauce may look similar but the one here is not sweet plus it is cooked. It so happened that I dropped by one afternoon sometime ago and I saw the boss’ elderly auntie cooking one huge cauldron of it! Unfortunately, she was done or I would have loved to watch to see the ingredients that went into the pot and how she went about cooking it.

The boss, Peter, served us this complimentary ulam platter…

Payung Cafe ulam

…with his very special sambal that all of them loved to bits! I cannot remember exactly but if I am not wrong, this was the sambal that he learnt how to make from his friend’s mum in Myanmar and he changed it a bit to come out with his own version of it.

That was also the same with the dessert that I ordered, the Dreamy Nite…

Payung Cafe dreamy nite

He would not reveal the recipe when I asked him and he only said there were oats in it and also that it was originally an Indian dessert but it was way too sweet so he had to cut down the sweetness drastically and I would not know what else he did but I sure liked the final outcome and so did everybody else that night.

The belimbing prawn spaghetti…

Payung belimbing prawn spaghetti

…is, of course, a 100% Payung original as well, none like it anywhere else, and we requested for it to be extra spicy. With every mouthful of it bursting with the blend of flavours of the exquisite ingredients used, of course, everyone enjoyed it to the max, no doubt about it…and on top of it, like everything else here, this is msg-free.

Gerald was indeed so very impressed and that prompted him to make these remarks on my album on Facebook:
Creativity and innovativeness in managing surprises is what I am after. I witnessed and experienced all the five senses of sight, taste, smell, sound, and feel hereI can feel the intense effort of the owner in trying his best to create a piece of heaven in each dish. Some restaurant owners create heaven in pricing and compromise on ingredients while others try to tag fusion into their menu and add diversity into their so-called “creation”. But at the end of the day, smart owners will just be creatively sincere in the best of their knowledge to the right combination…I don’t mind to fly to Sibu with my loved ones just to pay Payung a visit, because I feel and see so much of what a good eatery should be in here.” Need I say more?

Peter also treated us to his paku (jungle fern) in santan (coconut milk)…

Payung Cafe paku lemak
*Archive photo*

…but the photograph came out blur so I am using an old one here.

The highlight or climax of the evening had to be the moment when Gerald has his first spoonful of the durian ice cream…

Payung Cafe durian ice cream 1

He had a scoop of the vanilla ice cream and the fresh durian cream inside and that literally took his breath away…completely and rendered him absolutely speechless. All he could manage to say eventually was, “Wowwww!!!!”

Service was excellent – every dish came pretty fast and each time, a waiter put down a dish on the table, he would say what it was. The empty plates were quickly removed and we were served glasses of iced water to go with the desserts even without our asking for them. The nice ambiance was there, as always, and the beautiful and soothing keroncong songs sure helped to create a mood that matched the food and everything perfectly. I do not know if they will win the coveted award or not in the end – that will depend on the decision made by the committee eventually but on my part, I do feel very strongly that for all that there is to see, experience and enjoy at this little cafe here in good ol’ Sibu town, for both locals and visitors and tourists alike, they sure do deserve the recognition and acknowledgement.

Well, that wasn’t all! The next day, after checking out from the hotel, seeing that Gerald loved the durian ice cream so much, I took them back to the place for another round of that – one for the road…

Payung Cafe durian ice cream 2

You can see the fresh durian cream inside in the above photo.

I also got them to try the jelly pisang

Payung Cafe jelly pisang

….something that goes back a very long way to my teenage years when it was THE drink that everyone would order at the coffee shop (minus the scoop of ice cream) where all of us used to hang out and many of us from the time, including those residing in other towns in the country and others coming home from abroad, would drop by here just for this for old times’ sake.

Again, the nice and generous boss, Peter, treated us to something while we were there – their mango ice cream…

Payung Cafe mango ice cream

…with fresh local mango (quinee) cream, inside. No, they do not serve it like this and no, I did not do that – I never do such things. All that I would do is to just click…click and eat. The guys did it!!! *pointing the accusing finger* LOL!!!