Caffe Sprouts KL – Farm-to-Table Dining, Imbi
Words: Stephen Reid
Photos: Rich Callahan
You will have noticed the TSLAW building, which is the home of Caffe Sprouts, if you have been in the city centre over the past year, especially in the evening when it becomes the largest billboard in the city. Covered with millions of LED lights, it was particularly noticeable during the recent Merdeka celebrations when it displayed an enormous glowing Malaysian national flag. During the daytime, the building is slightly more restrained but remains a striking glittering tower just across the street from the TRX exchange MRT station and TRX Residences in what will be one of Kuala Lumpur’s most dynamic new shopping and business areas.
Caffe Sprouts opened on the second floor of TSLAW tower this June. As befits its modern location, the restaurant has a clean and uncluttered design, its interior blending hexagonal terracotta tiling, polished concrete seating and planters, forest-green subway tiles, white and green terrazzo table tops, hard surfaces softened by green seat cushions and a virtual forest of plants and foliage. A private dining room is also available, perfect for celebrations or events.
Before we sampled the food at Caffe Sprouts, we sat down for a chat with Shawn Koh, the General Manager of the restaurant group that includes not only Caffe Sprouts but also ‘Fire and Slice KL’. Monica confessed that Fire and Slice was one of her favourite places to grab a slice of gourmet pizza. Previously located in Tiffin at the Yard, Shawn, the business has relocated to Sunway Lagoon Theme Park, managed by Chef Chiew & Goh Ki Hong. Another of their restaurants’ NoLabel Cuisine’ also previously located at Tiffin in the Yard, has been folded into the new business at Caffe Sprouts, so if you were a fan of their popular lunchtime rice bowls, rest assured Chef Shane Law and Chef Paul are here to prepare all your favourites in these new premises.
Caffe Sprouts KL – Farm-to-Table
Farm-to-table restaurants are increasingly popular, serving sustainable food sourced directly from local farmers or suppliers. Noma, one of the most famous restaurants in the world, located in Denmark, took this a step further in 2015 and reopened as an urban farm, growing its produce on-site. Both NoLabel Cuisine and Fire and Slice were early champions of this growing trend in KL, which Caffe Sprouts aims to further progress.
Whilst they do not grow their produce on-site, most of the ingredients in this ‘Farm to Table’ restaurant come from just two farms. One is ‘Cameron Chai Farms, an organic 8-acre farm in Brinchang in the Cameron Highlands, where the slightly cooler climate produces most of the pumpkin, momotaro tomatoes and courgettes used in the restaurant. This farm has been in the same family for three generations.
The other farm is much closer to home, ‘Opus Farm’ an urban organic farm in Shah Alam, currently produces around 20 different vegetables, including most of the leafy greens used in Caffe Sprouts. Kai choy, nai pak, siu pak choy, basil, and spinach are grown hydroponically undercover in tiered vertical rows. Recently, they have expanded to start growing okra and chillies.
The advantages of this method are that it uses 90% less water than open-growing fields and is also a much more efficient use of land, producing more consistent and even growth; plants grow more quickly as they don’t need to expend energy developing extensive root systems, as all the nutrients and water they need are supplied.
In recent years, you may have noticed the increased reporting of food poisoning from leafy greens, such as recent cases involving romaine lettuce in the USA. Indeed, the Washinton Post recently reported that 58% of cases of E. coli illness in America were attributed to the consumption of salad vegetables. These outbreaks are often a result of livestock being reared near vegetable cultivation and water sources being contaminated by cattle runoff.
Given the above, it is unsurprising that Shawn told us that his customers are increasingly concerned about the quality and provenance of their food. By sourcing most of the produce he serves in the restaurant from just two farms with whom they have a longstanding relationship, he can assure his customers that their food is tasty and good for their health and the planet.
Growing vegetables hydroponically as they do at Opus Farm ensures that the produce is always safe to eat and has the perfect conditions for flavour and consistent growth. Water sources are filtered and monitored, ensuring their leafy greens are in excellent condition and free from contamination and pesticides. Opus Farms was recently awarded MYGAP accreditation (Malaysian Good Agriculture Practice) for its pesticide-free status. Located in Shah Alam, the vegetables have less distance to travel, arriving at Caffe Sprouts with ideal freshness and a lower carbon footprint. Another bonus!
Caffe Sprouts has a range of soft and alcoholic beverages, teas and coffees. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Caffe Sprouts has a no-corkage policy for wine and beer. You can bring your own bottle of wine and beer to enjoy with your meal without any additional charge. This policy allows customers to enjoy their favourite beverages while keeping the dining cost affordable.
Today, we tried one of their signature house blends, a 1-litre carafe of Sprouts Lemonade (RM 30), also available as a single glass (RM 13). This drink is perfect for those who enjoy a tart and citrusy flavour. The combination of lemons and calamansi and a few sprigs of mint create a unique taste that is both sweet and sour and was a great way to quench our thirst after travelling to the restaurant on another hot sunny day in the city.
We also tried a couple of The Brew Lab Kombucha (RM 16), fermented teas with various flavours. They are made and supplied to Caffe Sprouts by a local nutritionist. We sampled the yuzu and passion fruit varieties. Monica preferred the passionfruit variety, which combines the tangy taste of the kombucha with the sweet and tropical flavours of the passionfruit, whilst my favourite was the fresh citrussy notes of the yuzu variety. Kombucha is a good source of probiotics and healthy bacteria that can improve inflammation and digestion.
Caffe Sprouts Dinner Menu
Chef Shane prepared Charred Nai Pak (RM 15) to kick things off. Nai Pak is a form of Chinese cabbage which had been simply charred on the grill and served on a bed of silky smooth onion puree, drizzled with burnt butter, and sprinkled with pine nuts, which added a crunchy texture and nutty taste. Monica pointed out that pine nuts are known for their health benefits as they are high in antioxidants and have been said to have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels.
Our next plate from the kitchen was Highland Sweet Potatoes with Gorgonzola Ranch Sauce (RM 18). These were roasted and presented with a generous creamy gorgonzola ranch dressing. For those who perhaps are not huge fans of blue cheese, I implore you to try this dish; whilst blue cheese can often be a rather dominant flavour, it is kept in check, yet the familiar tang still provides a counterbalance to the sweetness of the potatoes. I’d happily take home a bottle of this dressing if it were available, perhaps more than one.
I was excited to taste the Eggplant Parmigiana (RM 21) with signature momotaro tomato sauce. This dish is always something that tempts me on a menu. However, I’m often disappointed if it appears tightly contained in its own cast iron skillet, as it does so frequently. It is a dish that I prefer to be served warm rather than sizzling hot, and serving it in a little cast iron pan means that it often takes far too long to cool down when I can appreciate the rich flavours properly. I need not have worried, however, as here it appears in three delightful free-standing circular stacks, like little islands standing proud on a plate, surrounded by a rich sea of the house-made signature momotaro tomato sauce, the perfect temperature and packed with flavour.
Shawn told us this is the same rich, flavour-packed sauce they use on their famous ‘Fire and Slice’ Pizzas at Sunway Lagoon. Made from the still delicious but sometimes oddly-shaped tomatoes they receive from the Cameron Highlands, nothing is wasted; this is very important to them.
After sorting in their tomato beauty contest, the more attractive-looking tomatoes get a star turn, appearing in our next side dish, a delicious Tomato Salad (RM 18). Momotaro tomatoes are small round tomatoes, usually about the size of a golf ball. It’s a trendy heirloom variety in Japan and renowned for its sweetness owing to its high sugar content and low acidity. Served with Caffe Sprout’s signature basil pesto, it was one of the best tomato salads I’ve tasted outside of Italy. Shawn told us that if they are sent more tomatoes than they can use in the restaurant, they sometimes sell them for you to buy and take home. If this is the case when you visit, I’d highly recommend you do so; they are absolutely wonderful.
Our next dish was Kabocha Pumpkin Gnocchi (RM 25). The gnocchi was made from kabocha, a Japanese pumpkin with a sweet and almost nutty flavour, somewhat between a pumpkin and a sweet potato. I was eager to tuck into these delicious orange pillows with a slightly browned crust tossed in a burnt butter sauce, also known as “beurre noisette’ in French. The sauce also contained capers and laksa leaves, the capers adding a tangy and slightly salty flavour to the dish, whilst the Laska leaves added slight zesty lemony notes. Overall, the dish perfectly balanced sweet, nutty, savoury and salty flavours, which complimented each other beautifully.
Monica and I held back from trying our following dish, Grilled Cabbage (RM 12) with Greek Yoghurt and Anchovy Sambal, waiting as usual for the verdict of our photographer, Rich, who is always fearless whenever it comes to chillies and fiery sambals. Giving us the all-clear, we tucked into my favourite dish of the day. The cabbage was grilled to perfection, which gave it a slightly charred and smoky flavour. The excellent anchovy sambal provided a salty umami taste, tempered by the Greek yoghurt, adding a creamy and cooling element.
Moving on to one of the more hearty dishes, Lamb Roulade (RM 42), the lamb had been marinated in their house-made spice blend before being rolled and oven-roasted to perfection. This is a dish that even those who are not huge fans of lamb would be guaranteed to enjoy: caramelised and crispy on the outside, juicy and succulent on the inside, resting on a vibrant green mint salsa verde. Mint and lamb are always a classic pairing, and for good reason: the refreshing and bright sauce offsets the richness of the lamb perfectly. Served with a Brazilian spinach and pomegranate salad, the pomegranate seeds added sweet and tart notes, which balanced out the slight bitterness of the spinach.
The lunch menu at Caffe Sprouts features easy, meals-in-a-single-bowl items, making for a filling and speedy break from work. We sampled the Laksa Pesto Pasta with Smoked Duck (RM 26) from the lunch menu for our final dish. Chef Shane prepared premium pasta cooked in a creamy house-made laksa pesto sauce, a wonderful fusion of Italian and Southeast Asian flavours. The slices of smoked duck added a rich smokiness to the dish, complementing the sauce’s tanginess. Adding a garnish of tempeh cubes provided a nice crunchy contrast in texture to the creamy pasta.
A large display of freshly baked cakes and pastries is available daily at Caffe Sprouts, the perfect accompaniment to a coffee sourced from a local roastery. Black Coffee is RM 11, and White coffee costs RM 13.
Caffe Sprouts KL Review
Caffe Sprouts should be on your radar if you are looking for food that not only tastes fabulous but is also pesticide and chemical-free whilst being packed with nutrients. The quality of their ingredients excels; you can taste the difference. Chef Shawn and Chef Paul are passionate about bringing farm-to-table dining to a broader customer base. Their close relationship with local farmers means that they can guarantee the provenance and quality of the ingredients of every dish they serve and help promote sustainable agricultural practices. Finishing your meal, you have the satisfaction of knowing it was produced in an environmentally responsible way. For those watching their bank balance, their no corkage fee policy means you can bring a bottle from home and keep your dining costs affordable.
Reasons to visit Caffe Sprouts: Try the Kabocha Gnocchi, a simple rustic dish that is incredibly moreish and flavourful. The surprise star for me was the Grilled Cabbage with anchovy sambal; who knew the humble cabbage could taste so incredible? It pairs very well with the lamb. As for those sweet highland potatoes, the gorgonzola ranch sauce is absolutely divine.
L2-05, TSLAW Tower
39, Jalan Kamuning, Imbi
55100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Caffe Sprouts Opening Hours
Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sunday – Closed