Athanor, where everything turns into gold

Athanor, where everything turns into gold

The food in Athanor is simply great.

If that sounds like an exaggeration, it isn’t. Any refutations until you get to try the cuisine and pastries in the restaurant run by Sunway University’s School of Hospitality will be purely academic

I would even recommend this place to chefs who are already in the industry and looking for new ideas, as this is the place where people carry out a lot of research and put their thinking hats on to come up with fresh ideas.

Hoteliers and restauranteurs hoping to hire new student talents will also be able to spot suitable candidates for their outlets.

For other members of the public, this is the place for some fine dining at a fraction of the price. I am truly glad that Sunway University has finally set up the restaurant to allow us to savour some of its best cuisine and pastries.

The name Athanor comes from the Arabic “at-tannur,” which means the baker’s oven. In ancient times, the alchemists used this special furnace to maintain a uniform and durable temperature in their laboratories.

The name conjures the image of a kitchen where perspiration eventually yields cuisine and pastries one can only dream of, food good enough to inspire other chefs in the industry.

Each semester, Athanor’s head chef, Patrick Siau Chi Yin, and his team of award-winning chefs whip up a new menu, each more mesmerising than the last.

I made this suggestion a few years ago, and Athanor is now strategically located at the sixth floor of Sunway University, which overlooks the scenic lagoon.

When I was invited to try their latest offering, I was pleased to taste the roast lamb rack, which comes with my favourite pumpkin puree, and some vegetables, herbs crumble and lamb jus.

The portion may be small to the average Malaysian, but considering this is fine dining, the set menu at RM30 is a small fraction of what you would pay in other restaurants.

The other sets that you can pick from the menu include either the duck confit with Idaho potato croquette (which taste different due to volcanic soil in America’s northwest), vegetables and green chili sauce; the pan-fried Norwegian salmon with Idaho potato croquette, vegetables and spicy pineapple sauce; chicken roulade, served with pumpkin puree, vegetables and red wine sauce; or vongole pasta, which is linguine cooked with clams and white wine sauce.

Two cuisines that you must try or at least share out with friends are the beef patty, which also comes with Idaho potatoes and the chef’s mushroom soup, which uses shimeji mushrooms and sour cream. Both have my thumbs up!

I have always loved mushroom soup, and it tastes almost the same everywhere. But Athanor’s mushroom soup is truly unusual with unique tastes, just like the beef patty.

If you still have room after the main course, I strongly recommend trying out the exotic log chocolate mousse with passionfruit ganache and ice cream. If you are a chocolate lover, this pastry has a rich chocolatey taste that will give you the oomph the moment you taste it, leaving you with a greater craving for more!

And yes, for the ice cream scoop that comes with the exotic log and other pastries, ask for their Earl Grey premium ice cream. Unlike most other commercial ice creams, theirs is homemade and it has a silky smooth texture to it, as it melts immediately in the mouth.

Trust me, you just have to close your eyes, take a mouthful of it and you will simply love the ice-cream!

The other pastries that you can try out are the chef’s pavlova with stewed pineapple cubes, mint jelly, jasmine passion sauce and ice cream; green tea cake with green tea mousse, red beans, wild berries sauce and ice cream; beehive churros with caramelised pineapple, wild berries sauce and ice cream; and the vanilla flavoured crème brûlée which come with wild berries.

And, because Chinese New Year is just round the corner, Siau has prepared his version of Yee Sang. This is something that you can enjoy, especially the homemade sauce that is again truly unique.

Athanor, which is open to the public, is run by Sunway University’s School of Hospitality. It is located on Level 6, in the west wing of the Sunway University building. The university is accessible using the BRT Sunway Line. You can also park in the multilevel basement carpark in front of the university.

For reservations, contact Maggie at 03 7491 7235 or [email protected]

Tel: 03 7491 8622 ext. 7235.
Business hours: 12pm – 2pm, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays only.
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Lei Cha: Old herbal concoction now a favourite with the health-conscious

Lei Cha: Old herbal concoction now a favourite with the health-conscious


The story is told about the legendary General Zhang Fei who was about to attack Chengdu during the era of the Three Kingdoms in China.

However, his troops fell ill and many were weary from the long and tiresome march; they had no energy to march on, what’s more, to take on the people of Chengdu.

It was an old lady whose herbal concoction revived the entire army that they were rejuvenated – and soon, they were strong again not only to fight, but won the war.

The secrets of this concoction has been preserved as what is now known as the lei cha which is a famous cuisine amongst the Hakka diaspora in Malaysia. In recent years, due to a greater interest in health food, lei cha is now accepted by mainstream diners.

It takes a while to acquire the taste. My wife, who is a Hakka, did not like it initially, but after teasing from me, she decided to try it. Now, she can take the entire bowl of lei cha on her own without the rice!

The reason, as pointed out by Big Big Bowl Hakka Kitchen’s restaurant owner, Angie Lim, is because she uses more basil than mint.

“A lot of people cannot accept the strong mint taste,”

she explains.

“Our lei cha soup is thicker and it has more basil in it.”

For this, I can fully agree with her that in terms of value for money, Angie’s lei cha is a lot more concentrated and tastes better than that offered in most other places that I have tried.

Family Project

With the idea of teaching my children to always go for the more healthy food whenever they have to eat out, I decided to do a research into the lei cha.

Often mistaken for the word, ‘lei’ () which means ‘thunder’, the actual Chinese word used for lei cha is , which means, being ‘beaten.’ Combined with the word ‘cha’, it simply means ‘pounded tea.’

There are two versions of lei cha, but in Malaysia, it is the Hakka lei cha that is more popular than the Hunan lei cha.

According to Angie, they use eight different types of vegetables to prepare this one cuisine. The basil and mint leaves are pounded together with roasted sesame seeds and groundnuts into a paste that is to be added into water to turn it into a soup-like herbal tea.

“The vegetables have to be cut into smaller pieces so that the lei cha can then be added to the mix,”

she explains.

“They can either add white rice, brown rice or our lei cha noodles, handmade from pounded vegetables.”

If anything, the whole process is very time consuming and unless there is a high turnover, a number of restaurants only offer the lei cha once or twice a week.

However, at Angie’s Big Big Bowl, the lei cha is available throughout the week. In fact, you can even buy the refrigerated paste from her and prepare your own lei cha to be eaten any time of the day.

Customers like me who want to reduce the intake of carbohydrates, prefer to eat the lei cha without the additional rice or noodles.

I am amazed that both my children, including my six-year-old daughter, have already started to love the lei cha. This is a good way to encourage them to take more vegetables than meat.


Check out previous articles on this Healthy Food Trail: Energy Bowls to be featured prominently at Coffea Coffee come Dec 16


Restoran Big Big Bowl Hakka Kitchen is located at No 5A Jalan Desa 2/7, Desa Aman Puri, Kepong, 52100 Kuala Lumpur.  

Tel: 012-211 5564

Operating hours: 8 am – 9 pm through the week, off only on alternate (second and fourth) Tuesdays of the month.

Waze location: Search for Big Bowl Hakka Kitchen

Facebook: Type in “Big Bowl Hakka Kitchen”

Oh Raub, your original fish head curry is still mesmerising…

Oh Raub, your original fish head curry is still mesmerising…

No one can ride into the little town of Raub without noticing a corner shop painted in bright orange that has since become the humble beginning of this famous Ratha Raub Fish Head Curry.

It is located some 31 kilometres from Bentong heading northwest toward Lebuhraya Kuala Lumpur – Gua Musang.

Along this stretch of roads, there are a number of durian plantations; therefore, expect to stop by the roadside to pick up some durians or eat what you can on the spot, if you are a durian lover but reserve some room for the savoury Indian dishes at Ratha Raub.

This is the place where Malaysians of all races come together to enjoy the town’s specialty delicacies.

Originally from Kelantan, its owner, M Rathakrishnan settled down here in Raub and started his own restaurant in 1982. His fish head curry and chicken curry soon became his two main signature dishes that attracted both locals and domestic tourists.

When we arrived there after an overnight’s stay at the beautiful eco-resort of Tanah Aina Farrah Soraya in Raub, it was already 1pm. I suspect most of the people here are domestic tourists from all over the country.

Although the journey was another 17km away from Tanah Aina, it was worth the trip because the curry fish head was simply delicious. It was spicy, yet it tasted great. I strongly recommend this delicacy which has made Ratha Raub so famous. The curry chicken is just as good.

Surprisingly, the curry used for the squid was different in taste compared to the fish head and chicken curry. It is less spicy and tastes slightly sweeter, perhaps to cater to younger children.

With the main dishes, I was hardly interested in their pickled vegetables initially until my son tried it and told me it tasted really good.

When met in person, the man himself told me that he has good news. Today, after 35 years, Ratha Raub is touted to make waves in Shanghai with its first batch of curry paste being exported to Shanghai, China.

“So far, the order has been successful,” Ratha said. “We hope to fulfil this first order soon and going for more orders.”

If the curry paste takes off in China, this is a proof that Malaysian cuisines especially a small town like Raub can become well-known overseas even in China, especially in a metropolitan like Shanghai.

The secret of his success? “We quality control our products very strictly,” he says. “There is a difference between chilli imported from China and those from India,” he explains. “Although they are from the same stock, perhaps it is the soil that makes the Indian chilli a lot hotter than those produced in China. This is why we are always very strict with the raw ingredients.”

The legacy of 35 years created by Ratha since 1982 will continue for many years to come

Restoran Ratha Raub is located at No 82, Jalan Tun Razak, 27600 Raub, Pahang.

Tel: 09-356 1651

Business hours: 7:00 AM – 11:30 PM


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The ice cream bell still rings in Bentong

The ice cream bell still rings in Bentong

Anyone who has visited Bentong will know that there is a coffee shop that is more famous for its ice cream than what its signboard suggests.

After all, who would not have a natural craving for some good ice cream, ais batu campur (ABC) and cendol especially when they have heard so much about the popularity of Kow Po Coffee Shop in Bentong?

It is not only the children, but the adults too enjoy the ice cream here because it is both smooth and silky. What is important is that the ice cream tastes fresh and there is a good variety of flavours to choose from.

They have about ten flavours which include chocolate, pandan, peanuts, coffee, coconut, banana, strawberry and vanilla. If the family is in a hurry, they can also stop by to ask for ice cream on the cone. Each scoop is RM4.

Whenever we come here, we usually go for the Jumbo which is shared out with the whole family, but on my own I would take either their Cendol Kow Po Special (RM5.00), which comes with red beans, ice cream, cendol and attap seeds, or their ABC Ice Kacang Kow Po Special (RM5.00).
The history goes that a Teo Chew man, the late Tan Soon Chuan relocated from Alor Setar to Bentong in the early 1950s. He started the special homemade ice cream business in 1956.

Because business was good, his son Tan Kow Po, now 83, and his wife soon joined the business; before long, he became known as the “Bentong Uncle Ice Cream”.

Most young children in this town have grown up loving his ice cream, which was a rare treat in those early years. To have an ice cream in the 1950s was a luxury that not every child could have.

Image via
Through word of mouth, soon people from outside of Bentong also stopped by this shop on their trip to the East Coast. This was prior to the development of the East Coast Highway.

Although the traffic has been diverted from Bentong town, most people still make a detour here to just enjoy the ice cream. Last year, they celebrated their 60th anniversary in business.

When we went there two weeks ago at about 3pm, it was initially very quiet and we thought we were the only customers there. We were of course wondering why we were the ones there.

After about 15 minutes, for some reasons, guests just flocked in; before long, the whole place was already packed with people.

From whence they came is a big question mark but I am not surprised that with durians as the biggest attraction to Bentong these days, people come here for both the durians and the ice cream, which is nothing but a perfect combination.

Read my simple analysis of Kow Po’s marketing success formula here.

Kow Po Coffee Shop is located at No 2 Bentong Heights, 28700 Bentong, Pahang.

Tel:  09-222 1258 / 016-931 0391

Business hours: 10am to 7pm every day


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Let me tell you one little secret about Bentong ice cream

Let me tell you one little secret about Bentong ice cream

Anyone who has patronised Kow Pow Coffee Shop in Bentong will realise that they have a right marketing formula for success.

Although some may say that the ice cream is pricey for a small town, from the marketing point of view, they have got all three other P’s correct.

Besides the product, location (place) and customer loyalty (mainly domestic tourists), there is also a fast turnover of guests. There is also a lack of competition; after all, people come to Bentong, they are looking for something local that is cheap and nice.

Image via TripAdvisor

Unlike the commercially factory-produced ice creams, here the ice cream is manufactured in small batches using fresh ingredients every day. This helps them to sustain just for the day’s business.

This is important as most customers can feel the freshness of the ingredients that they use; for that reason, they come back for more, bringing their friends along. Cleanliness is also very important when patrons bring their expatriate friends. The word of mouth spreads:

“Whenever you go to Bentong, go for their ice cream.”

The downside is that some of the locals start to boycott the place because they find the prices becoming too steep for them; this is why anyone in the restaurant business must always learn to be appreciative of local support as well. Sometimes, I boycott certain restaurants because of the attitude of its owners or staff, which shows the importance of People in the marketing equation.

Like in Penang, Gurney Drive has become the place for tourists, but domestic tourists like me are avoiding such places because we know the place has become too artificially commercialised. A lack of local fans also show that something may not be right with the prices or the attitude of the hawkers there.

But until there is a stronger competitor, with the right pricing for equally good ice cream and its proprietors are more people friendly, business can only grow stronger for Kow Po Coffee Shop.

Besides me giving them media publicity in most English dailies that I was writing for as a part time writer in the past, there are other newspapers and food bloggers who have given them the boost.

Word of mouth is very important in the food and beverage business. After the articles appear, people will check out the place. When they like it, they will tell others about it (like the ant scout telling its friends where the sweet stuff is) and soon people will follow the crowd.

Today, aided by social media, word of mouth can spread very fast for the better or for the worse. It is a challenge that every restaurant operator faces to ensure that they have their four (some say five) P’s correct – Product, Price, People and Place.

Even I am drawn to this coffee shop every time my family make a trip to Bukit Tinggi or Genting Highlands even if we have to drive another 15 km to Bentong, or like on this occasion after a night’s stay at the beautiful eco-resort of Tanah Aina Farrah Soraya in Raub.

After a short drive to Raub to try out the famous Ratha Raub’s original fish head curry, we checked out Kow Po Coffee Shop, which is located just beside Hong Leong Bank (or opposite the Bentong bus station).

Keeping to just one shop also means that the shop is always packed during peak hours but the number of customers at any one point in time is manageable by the number of staff working.

Most people, especially those from outstation, will tend to flock to an eatery which looks packed than one that is empty. This is why after nearly 20 years of watching their business grow, I have decided not only to write about their ice cream, but make a simple analysis that will provide some good insights for other restauranteurs.

Click here to read about Kow Po Coffee Shop and what it has to offer.

Energy Bowls to be featured prominently at Coffea Coffee come Dec 16

Energy Bowls to be featured prominently at Coffea Coffee come Dec 16

Energy Bowls will be featured prominently at Coffea Coffee from December 16 onwards targeting at the health conscious and fitness fans.

People patronising the gymnasiums in Desa Sri Hartamas and Mont Kiara would be happy to know that the Energy Bowls will now be available within a few minutes at the café.

And when all four signature Energy Bowls make the debut at two of its outlets (in Desa Sri Hartamas and Subang SS15) come Saturday December 16, you will be able to enjoy its Chocolate Warrior (RM17 inclusive of GST) which tastes like ice-cream and truly my favourite.  

What is comforting is that it is not fattening, since the Chocolate Warrior is nothing but a cold (refrigerated) smooth blend of banana, peanut butter and cocoa powder, with toppings of banana, chocolate granola, peanut butter, drizzle, coconut flakes and buckwheat groats.

On both Dec 16 and 17, if you present the discount card (see pic) you will get a discount of 10 percent and tell them that you read about it in Malaysiakini.

It is easy to understand that it is not always possible for cafes and restaurants like Coffea Coffee to go fully on health food, but this new range of health food is a good starter.  

Their other Energy Bowls are Sunrise Bowl (what a name!), Pink Flamingo and their Christmas special — the ‘Berry Xmas’ Energy Bowl.

The Sunrise Bowl has all three tropical fruits in the blend – banana, mango and pineapples with toppings of mango, apple crumble granola and coconut flakes and chia seeds.

For those who love dragon fruits, the Pink Flamingo is also a good choice because my children and I have tasted it and found it yummy. It is a blend of pitaya (red dragon fruit), pineapple and banana, with banana, apple crumble granola, coconut flakes and buckwheat groats as its toppings.  

For those who love raspberries for health reasons, their Berry Xmas is a good choice. Banana gives it a good sweet base. Toppings include white dragon fruit, granola, coconut flakes and buckwheat groats.

For their usual meals, their Pasta penne with creamy chicken mushroom (RM15) is a favourite with the children, as it is both cheesy and creamy. I tried a bit of all their pasta and found this to be particularly good, and decided to let all four children with me to finish up everything, while being watchful of my cholesterol level, I took the Caeser Salad with Poached Egg and Grilled Chicken (RM12) and tasted a bit of everything.

The Aglio Olio (RM 15) looks good but slightly spicy for me, but surprisingly, the children love it, along with their waffles, which come with either a scoop of ice cream and choc sauce, or with egg benedict, ham and cheese (RM12.90).

For all-day dining (the café is closed at 12 midnight on weeknights and 1am for weekends), their pastry puff with chicken curry (RM11.90) and pastry puff with creamy chicken mushroom (RM11.90) are good to order along with their Latte with Peanut Butter (try this unique cold drink at least once and you will love it).


Since Mont Kiara has a few international schools, Coffea Coffee with its English Breakfast (RM18.90) is ideal for teenagers who want to have a good breakfast before they start school. It is easy to pick up the breakfast pack if you pre-order the food.

They also serve Pasta chicken pesto (RM15), Panini with smoked chicken & cheese (RM17.90) and Lasagne (RM12).


The children love their pasta here and prices for a place like Mont Kiara and Desa Sri Hartamas are still surprisingly below RM20; therefore, this is a good place to stop over either before or after a visit to the National Science Centre


Coffea Coffee Sri Hartamas is located at 1, Jalan 26/70a, Desa Sri Hartamas, 50480 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur  

Subang Jaya outlet:  A-10, Jalan SS 15/4d,, Ss 15, 47500 Subang Jaya, Selangor

Tel: 03-6206 5510

Business hours: 
Mon, Tue, Wed, Sun 8 am – 12 am / Fri and Sat 9 am – 1 am

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