Cafe treats at Lemon Tree

Facade of Lemon Tree restaurant in Taman Melodies, JB
Jeffery Bong, 35, grew up in Pandan, Johor, observing how his parents ran a fresh fruits business and quite naturally led him to start a culinary career in the kitchen of the Hyatt Regency Johor Baru.  

To gain more professional kitchen experience, he ventured further to work at Pete’s Place, a popular Italian restaurant in the Grand Hyatt Singapore.  Armed with a wealth of culinary experience seven years later, Bong decided to explore career options back in JB and had the opportunity to work with a pioneer team that launched a quick-service Italian restaurant here. 

Jeffery Bong presents signature dishes, Special Fried
Rice [Right] and Ham & Cheese Chicken Chop [Left]
Bong’s desire to start his own business challenged him to step out of his comfort zone and twelve years ago this JB guy turned his dream into reality when he opened Lemon Tree Restaurant.  Looking back to the early years, Bong admits that there were times when he felt discouraged but each time he would remind himself of the reason why he brought his culinary experience back to JB.  His perseverance paid off handsomely because Lemon Tree has since established itself as a popular restaurant to a loyal clientele, not just from the neighbourhood but even with many who don’t mind traveling there from afar!

Lemon Tree has a cafe menu in a range of rice, noodles, sandwiches, pizza, pasta and Western favourites like chicken chop and fish and chips, at affordable prices.  Modeled after a quick-service restaurant, orders are served promptly with generous portions in the main courses and they even offer thirst-quenching fruit juices in jumbo-size jugs.  The food is tasty and meets the requirement of lunch-hour diners who may have limited time to enjoy their meal and get back to work soon.

Seafood Spaghetti Alio Olio
“Our Special Fried Rice was inspired by a regular customer,” said Bong with a laugh and went on to explain how a customer dined so regularly at Lemon Tree that he often asked for add-on items to his usual order of fried rice.  

While the fried rice was already tasty with ingredients, each time he would ask for something extra like a piece of fried chicken, a fried egg – sunny side up – ham and cheese and even coleslaw, to go with his fried rice.  This led Bong to create a Special Fried Rice presented with these items and a side of black-pepper sauce for some gravy! 

Generous toppings in the popular Island Seafood Pizza
This Special Fried Rice is a signature dish along with the Ham & Cheese Chicken Chop which is so named because the grilled chicken chop is topped by a slice of cheese and chicken ham.  

Another popular item is their Seafood Spaghetti Alio Olio created with pasta tossed with slices of fish, squid and whole prawns.  At Lemon Tree, they make their own pastry for their pizzas so diners can be assured of freshly baked pastry with a variety of topping choices including their popular Island Seafood Pizza.

Kevin Sio presents a delightful dessert
in Volcano 75, made with 75% Belgian
Lemon Tree is located in the commercial square of a residential area which is distinctly shaded by matured trees.  While these are not lemon trees, Bong’s restaurant sports a charming sun-dappled fa├žade which is modestly welcoming.  Recently he expanded his business premises into two shop units with an air-conditioned section when business partner, pastry chef Kevin Sio, joined him to add value to Lemon Tree’s desserts.   

Sio, also 35, was former schoolmates with Bong in Johor Baru and he too garnered a great deal of kitchen experience while working with bakeries in JB and Singapore.  In his previous position with the Pan Pacific Hotel Singapore, Sio specialized in Japanese desserts and acquired skills in artful presentations.  Now diners can linger over afternoon tea as Sio serves a range of elegant desserts like Pick Me Up Tiramisu, Volcano 75, tangy Lemon Cake and spicy Chilli Padi Sorbet!

At Lemon Tree You will notice a distinctive in the piped-in music with a playlist that inevitably includes pop-song, Lemon Tree by Fool’s Garden.  Listen closely because it is sung not only in the English language.  While this is a catchy tune to sing along to, Bong admits that he prefers the folk tune, Lemon Tree by Peter, Paul and Mary. 

Jumbo-size thirst-quenching fresh fruit juice, enough to share at Lemon Tree!
Lemon Tree Restaurant at 18 & 20, Jalan Bedara, Taman Melodies, Johor Baru, is open daily from 12pm to 11pm except Monday.  No pork and no lard are used.  Tel: 607 – 335 5688.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on June 30

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