Biker themed Cafe Racer

Once in a while, I come across a café and its cuisine that’s as interesting as its chef.

Chef Gary "Ozzy" Hong presents a serving
of Grandmama lamb pie
I met Chef Gary “Ozzy” Hong back in 2010 to taste his food at the GrillBar Steakhouseh and I’ve been back regularly to enjoy his culinary creations.  Over the years, he earned a reputation as a chef who is committed to consistent food quality and service and garnered many fans.  Then, Hong – a chef with a bike-riding hobby – shared with me his ideas for a second café, its theme and menu which is designed to welcome a wider clientele, in particular people who share his passion for motorbikes.

Last year, Café Racer opened in a double-storey shop with a distinct bikers’ café identity.   In the space of a few months, the décor which features vintage bikes and scooters, expanded with a collection of helmets and biking paraphernalia.  It even has a photo booth upstairs where guests are welcome sit on his bikes to pose for photos!

While there’s a cool hipster vibe about this café, Hong had installed a dumb-waiter, an old-school contraption to transfer food from the kitchen upstairs, to serve guests downstairs.  This I believe, is a throwback to what he’s familiar with because Hong comes from a family with a history in operating traditional coffee-shops in the city and Johor Baru’s first coffee-house.

Rock & Roll Shrimp Burrito [Foreground] with
Taco Salmon Caesar Salad [Background]
Starter Snacks

I’m familiar with his food and observed how Hong is constantly innovating and creating new recipes to please the palates of discerning diners.  As his food became more sophisticated, he still uses quality ingredients in a menu of real food that truly satisfies.  When Hong designed the menu for Café Racer, I’m pleased that the same quality standards were consistently applied.

I meet the affable Hong again in a recent visit to the café while he was busy updating his menu and we share some laughs discussing outrageous names for the new items.  While there are some changes, I’m glad that favourites like the Sloppy Nachos Munchos and Onion Blossoms, are still on the menu.

Sloppy Nachos Munchos
I’m introduced to a starter that Hong named, Rock & Roll Shrimp Burrito (RM15) made with a tasty tortilla rolled with egg and cheese, topped with whole deep-fried prawns, coated with green-pea batter.  It’s a simple but hearty snack.  

Another interesting starter, Taco Salmon Caesar Salad (RM18), is a giant taco filled with peppery tasting salad rocket or arugula and slices of smoked salmon tossed in Caesar salad sauce.  After eating the contents, I can even chew up the taco bowl but I wisely resisted so as to save some space to sample more food.

Iron Butt Cheese Burger made with dragon fruit and
rosemary bagel; [Background] charcoal and blueberry [Left]
and spinach, peas and parsley bagels [Right]
Hong tells me their Route 66 Devil Wings (RM14) are chicken wings that may be served hotter upon request.  Ih reply with, "No thanks,” as I want to try its original taste.  When I see the serving, I’m amused by its hotness tacitly illustrated by the paper which lines the bowl, with edges that appear to be singed by flames!

Big Meals

“We bake our own bagels and you may be served different flavours, depending on the ingredients we have that day,” said Hong about their range of freshly-baked bagels and I can hear the passion in his voice as he talks about providing real food to his loyal clientele.

Racer Beef Stew comes with a slice of toast
There is a daily supply of baked goods like pies and bagels made in their own bakery and pastry kitchen.  So don’t be surprised if diners at the same table may even be served different bagels in flavours like charcoal and blueberry, spinach, peas and parsley, and dragon fruit and rosemary.

Then I meet the juicy theIron Butt Cheese Burger (RM25), made with 240gm ground beef patty, layered with a fried egg, tomato slices, arugula sprigs, caramelized onions and a cheese slice, sandwiched between a freshly baked bagel.  The burger comes with a side of potato wedges and a chillie dip to please the Malaysian taste for this ubiquitous sauce!

Chunks of real meat stuffed in Grand-mama's pies!
Fans of chicken pies thhey once enjoyed at Wato Snack Bar, JB’s first air-conditioned coffee-house, can have a taste of nostalgia here.  This is because Café Racer also makes a range of Grand-mama’s pies that are stuffed with quality chunks of chicken (RM22), beef or lamb (RM24).  Hong serves these popular pies topped with potato and green pea mash, with a side of sautéed mushrooms.

For a taste of juicy meat, it must be the famous Racer Beef Stew (RM35), made with sous vide prepared tender chunks of meat, mushroom and carrots swimming in delicious gravy.  It comes with a slice of toast but I shamelessly ask for more bread to wipe up all the gravy!

Hong tries to give diners a better dining experience by serving his Good ‘Ole Fish & Chips (RM23) made with fillet of Pacific Dory.  When I see the fish fillet presented in a strange green colour and a cheeky upward curl, I’m intrigued.  I gingerly taste it and am delighted to discover that the fish is coated in a tasty green pea batter!

Sweet Treats

Just as I thought I may not have any space for dessert, Hong insists that I must have an experience of his Sizzling Brownie (RM18).  A brownie slice topped with a scoop of ice-cream is served in a heated cast iron pan and at the table, is drizzled with chocolate sauce for a sizzling effect.  I begin suspect this sweet treat is strangely addictive as I spoon one mouthful after another.

Drizzling sauce into a heated cast iron pan for
the sizzle in the Sizzling Brownie
The Chocolate Lava (RM18) remains a firm favourite probably because diners favour the contrasting flavours of hot Lava with a side of cool ice-cream.  I remember years ago when Hong showed me how to split open the lava cake to allow its warm chocolate filling to ooze out before spooning it to twirl around some melting ice-cream and then savour its delightful flavours.

When I sink my teeth into the Raisin & Banana Waffle (RM16) with a side of nutty ice-cream, I made a mental note to come back to savour this again on an empty stomach.  The wedges of warm and fluffy waffles filled with raisins and ripe bananas, eaten with a dollop of textured ice-cream, is an entire meal by itself.  It’s a smart twist to a comfort food that I can enjoy with a warm drink of fruit and flower tea or fragrant coffee.

Café Racer may not have an extensive menu but a great deal of thought and attention to detail has gone into the pleasing selection.  From the constant flow of diners into the café, it’s clear that Hong’s interesting menu is drawing a regular clientele who not only enjoys his cuisine but also the unique experience of dining in a biker themed café.

Café Racer by Grillbar (Halal-sourced ingredients)
72 Jalan Pingai
Taman Pelangi
80400 Johor Baru, Johor
Tel: +607 – 335 0000

Daily 12pm to 12am

Easy access to Jalan Pingai, an adjacent road that links Jalan Sri Pelangi and Jalan Kuning in Taman Pelangi.  The café faces the side of Giant Hypermarket in Taman Pelangi.

Good café fare

Freshly baked pies, interesting starters, tender beef stew, burgers and desserts

No service charge but GST charges apply

Café with a biker theme

Child’s high chair
Smoking Area
No Pets
Credit card facilities

Check out the photos (gasp!) that adorn their toilets!

English-speaking staff

Go give it a try

A version of this was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 27 April 2016

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