Sweet Experience

Chef Hans presents pan-seared Red Snapper
on a bed of mash
A touch of Mediterranean at Sweetwater

He’s a German who has established a reputation for great Italian cuisine and is putting his culinary experience into creating a menu of Mediterranean food in Sweetwater Restaurant – a name that’s reminiscent of Texas in the United States. 

Born in Dusseldorf, Germany, Hans Durst started his career in Castate Durst, their family restaurant, before joining a French restaurant as an apprentice at the tender age of 13.  He wanted to join a cruise ship’s kitchen to travel the world but was denied passage because he was just too young. 

“My dream was to travel,” confessed Chef Hans, Chef Owner of Sweetwater Restaurant and Gianni’s Trattoria in Johor Baru.  From an early age, he aspired to travel the world doing what he loved best – cooking.  After his family migrated to the United States, he had opportunities to develop his culinary skills and started a career with the Grand Hyatt Chicago before being transferred to the Grand Hyatt Singapore and later had job postings at Hyatt properties in Kuwait and Melbourne.

Facade of Sweetwater Restaurant at Jalan Serampang

Not only did his dreams about travelling come true but he was also exposed to new types of food and various styles of cooking in Italian, Spanish, North African, Moroccan and Lebanese cuisine.  

His experience in working alongside local chefs around the world gave him invaluable knowledge into the secrets of serving up authentic dishes.  Now Chef Hans is putting his own interpretation into creating something special for discerning palates in Johor Baru.

After his hotel career, Chef Hans opened his first Sweetwater Restaurant in Melbourne in 1988 and fondly recalls that their lovely logo won an award for it's unique design. 

Mediterranean charm with an airy ambience
After running the restaurant for eight years, an irresistible opportunity in Kuala Lumpur beckoned and he closed the business and moved to Malaysia and later, to Johor Baru where he started his own restaurant.  In June 2011 when he opened his second restaurant to serve Mediterranean cuisine, it was simple for him to pick a name – Sweetwater!

One of Sweetwater’s signature dishes is the hearty Spanish Paella Valencia prepared with assorted seafood, tender chicken cubes simmered in plump and juicy grains of Bomba rice.  Flavoured with generous sprinkles of smoked paprika, the rich broth from the marinated meats is fully absorbed into this rice, turning each grain firm and tasty for the perfect taste of Paella. 

“People want healthier food now,” said Chef Hans, who’s single-minded about serving the freshest ingredients in a healthier menu but without compromising on taste.  

Spanish Paella Valencia with assorted seafood,
chicken and Bomba rice
In a quick demo, Chef Hans used only the freshest fillets of Red Snapper that are pan-seared on a scorching skillet, and the pan covered and removed from the flame to seal in all its natural flavours.  Then a sauce created from a tangy blend of dark balsamic reduction and white balsamic cream, drizzled on the fish resting on a bed of mash, gave a delightful zing to the palate without being too overwhelming!

For Starters, he recommends the popular Grilled Scampi with a side of Lemon Butter and Calamari stuffed with Zuchinni and Clam sauce that are great for sharing.  Meat-lovers will enjoy the tender Veal Shank served with a side of Bomba rice or tender Moroccan Chicken on a bed of Bomba Rice, rich with raisins and olives and fragrant with cardamom and cumin flavours. 

Calamari with zuchinni and clam sauce

For dessert, Chocolate Truffle Cake with his own ice-cream creation will impress anyone who’s not yet chocolate crazy while the warm Chocolate Souffle with fresh cream, strawberry and crunchy almond slices is simply heavenly!

“I don’t want to steal my own customers!” laughed Chef Hans, “That’s why much thought has gone into designing the ambience and cuisine for an entirely different experience here,” he added.  He’s also worked hard in developing ways to prepare authentic dishes in the shortest possible time so that customers don’t wait too long for freshly cooked orders. 

Hans Durst, at age 13, in Dusseldorf, Germany

In fact, every order of mashed potatoes is prepared a la minute to ensure that taste and texture can be experienced in every bite.

The kitchen and wash area are in full view of diners who can watch the chefs at work and see how clean and well-kept the place is.  Throughout the airy and elegant restaurant, the walls are adorned with large Black & White photos of scenery and portraits.  Take a closer look because among them, there’s a photo of Chef Hans as a 13-year old apprentice, posing on the steps of Kaiser Frederick Hall in Dusseldorf and another handsome shot of him while he was Executive Chef with the Grand Hyatt Singapore!

Sweetwater Restaurant at No. 116 Jalan Serampang, Taman Pelangi, Johor Baru, is a Halal restaurant, open daily from 11am to 11pm.  Ask for their weekday set lunches and plan your parties in the restaurant, the bar section or in either of the two private dining rooms or upstairs.  Tel: 607 – 331 4349, Fax: 607 – 331 7230.  Visit website: www.sweetwaterrestaurant.info

Veal Shank simmered in secret sauces with a side of Bomba rice

Moroccan Chicken with rice, rich with raisins and olives, and
fragrant with cardomom and cumin flavours - Taste a waft of
the delectable fragrance once the cover is lifted off this warm dish!

Chocolate Souffle, fresh from the oven served with a side of
whipped cream, strawberry and almond slices

First, add a dollop of fresh cream into the warm Chocolate Souffle
and let it slowly melt in your mouth... mmm... heavenly!

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 14 March 2012


  1. Lee-Lang Aw3/30/2012

    Sounded delicious! I must make a plan to try out the food of Sweetwater next time when i am in Johor Bahru

  2. Anonymous4/28/2013

    Its good to see that Sweetwater lives on. Apprentice chef from the original Sweetwater in Flinders Lane Melbourne.