We love our Italian (more specifically, Porto Romano at Mont Kiara). And Chinese as well. You can say that we are a gluttonous family. But we do have disagreements come dinner time. With momma around, Indian food is out of the question (although she wouldn’t mind a piece of roti canai with dhal curry or thosai for supper) while dad will avoid the famous fried chicken like the plague. And they can count me out with everything durian. Pretty much dysfunctional, aren’t we? Now, pass us the quattro stagioni pizza.
There came last Sunday when momma had dinner plans.
We jubilated, in Cantonese.
The initial plan was to check out Indian Kitchen at Bangsar but traffic can get really congested at dinner time. Instead, dad suggested our usual stall next to St. James Kindergarten along Jalan Ipoh, not far from the Sentul police station. As much as I love the food there, I thought we would be better off checking out a more special place since we don’t get to do this often. So, came my idea of revisiting Madras Café, which is a few hundred metres away from St. James.
Just the location itself brought back some good old memories. As kids, my friends and I would peek into the Sri Dhandayuthanapani temple right across the café, from the overhead bridge. Between the grills, we were able to an interesting variety of birds, including peacocks, housed in temple’s garden. Most of my childhood friends got their primary education from the school (of the same name) next to the temple. I was one of the rare ones to have gained admission into a missionary school. And when the first air-conditioned minimarket starting running somewhere behind the café, we would be there everyday. Just the purchase of some cheap ice cream sticks or chewing gum would make us happy. It’s the LED and beeping of the cashier machine that intrigued us more (until the day we discovered barcode scanners). I can go on and on about this place but well, let’s just focus on the café for now.
It’s one of the oldest Indian restaurants in this area. According to dad, it was a favourite lunch spot among the workers at the KTM station in Sentul. As the years progressed, the restaurant was upgraded and had even installed an air-conditioning system. The façade we see today is rather classy, with the erection of a stall selling Indian snacks and mee goreng. Somehow, the bright and loud Mathura’s (a large Indian convenience store) had silenced the presence of Madras Café.
Ask any of my Indian classmates and they’ll rave about this restaurant. The poor students that we were could only afford to dine here on special occasions. Ever hungry, our arm-length banana leaves were often topped with a mountain of white rice. And we would flood it with free flowing curried gravies. But now that we’ve started making a decent living, we can’t afford the time. Nor the occasion.
I’ve noticed changes on the night of our visit. It was quieter, as compared to a decade ago where the streets would be filled with small eateries and loud Tamil or Hindi music. Instead of locals, there are now groups of foreign workers mingling around the area.
Smilingly, the staff who attended to us offered to reheat the some of the dishes. We cook it hot-hot again, he said. Indeed, the cabbage and potato cubes looked steaming hot on our banana leaves. We started off with our favourite amuse bouche of all time, rasam. Then, small plates of pre-ordered dishes started filling up the table. They should have refried the peria and cauliflower as well because the batter was already rather soggy, despite the good taste. I should compliment the mutton varuval for its spiciness. And when served with a slight smoky taste (which I have no idea where it came from), was ambrosia personified. Wish I could say the same about the chicken varuval though. When the white rice stopped pouring, came a big splash of chicken curry to bind them all with a spicy, aromatic flavour.
They said it was a special cup of masala chai. Well, perhaps they thought that I had never tasted masala chai before. Nevertheless, it was a good cup of tea, with just the right proportion of cardamon, ginger and sugar.
On a Saturday night, it was rather empty. But business can't be bad, judging from the generously wide range of dishes on display. The café must be catering more to the lunch crowd, I guess. The meal cost us about RM28, which was more expensive that our usual banana leaf rice set. Then again, with ambiance of nothing less than of a café (complete with air-conditioning), it was worth the revisit. Think of it this way; just a plate of spaghetti carbonara will cost one more than RM10 these days.
If it's all about bonding over good food, then we had celebrated this year's Father's Day at Madras Café.
Happy Father's Day.
(Next to Mathura's, before turning into Jalan Kovil Hilir at the traffic light)
51200 Kuala Lumpur.