Image: 123rf

"What? $12.80 for a plate of nasi lemak! That's crazy!"

That is a common response you'd get about this popular coconut rice meal, usually served with sambal.

Chef Lee Eng Su, who worked in chic French restaurants around the world before opening The Coconut Club here, found inspiration from the Kuala Lumpur-style nasi lemak in Village Park Restaurant in Damansara.

The place was said to be frequented by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Chef Lee found a recipe online, tweaked it, and that was the start of his success story.

Six months after The Coconut Club's opening late last year, queues can still be seen every day.

Image: TNP/MAKANSUTRA

Said Chef Lee: "Village Park's nasi lemak is similar to ours, but it's the chicken - coated with crunchy, chunky little bits of crispy batter - that gives it the edge."

I visited The Coconut Club an hour before closing on a Saturday afternoon, and there was still a queue at the door.

Apart from the crispy chicken, Chef Lee's sambal was also outstanding. There was a kick to it despite its sweet undertone at first taste. The chilli-sting crept up on me and lingered for a while.

The rice was fluffy, loose and did not have too much lemak as it was meant to be enjoyed with roasted peanuts, crispy ikan bilis, fried chicken (ayam goreng berempah), fried sunny side up egg and a few slices of Thai cucumber.

Sides are available, and I was told some were off-menu, so you just have to ask for the daily specials.

Image: TNP

One such dish was Sambal Lala (above), which was fresh clams tossed in a sweetish sambal. It didn't quite hit the mark for me because Chef Lee added MSG to the dish instead of letting the sambal work its magic.

The Fried Sambal Ikan Selar (market price) was smeared with sambal, inside and out, before frying. It was served with a little bowl of black kicap manis sambal on the side. If you get this off the wok and piping hot, the fish will sing in your mouth.

Image: TNP

(Above) The Otah ($8.50) came dense and full-bodied with all the flavour notes intact, from galangal and lemongrass to the sambal spices with little chunks of fresh fish. However, it was lacking in texture.

A really good binder was missing or insufficient, or maybe it simply sat too long in the oven. Perhaps more eggs or just egg whites would help.

The Coconut Club is an appealing addition to the growing hipster cafe scene in Singapore.

The place has a kopitiam-style kopi bar, and a raised centrepiece community table in the middle that lends an undulating multi-level look to the organised hipster chaos.

Chef Lee (below) said he "spent a bomb on renovations", and though the place looks good, The Coconut Club is jam-packed because of the nasi lemak and the honest, frank service, and nothing else.

Introduce some sambal buah keluak, chef!

Image: TNP

The Coconut Club

No. 6, Ann Siang Hill

11am-3pm

Closed Mondays

Tel: 6635-2999

KF Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra, dabbles in street food businesses like Food Markets and has his own TV shows on cable.

Article first published on TheNewPaper