More than just a restaurant

Gone are the days when a café or restaurant was just a place to dine.

Live music entertainment as you dine alfresco
at Eight on Lido Hill
Discerning diners in Johor Baru are not only seeking special menus and sophisticated food – they are also after a cool and jazzy ambience, live music and one-of-a-kind, diverse destinations.  Vintage and retro themed food and beverage outlets are perennial favourites but diners are still hungry for destinations that provide more than just dining.  Now JB has its share of well-planned venues but some just happened quite naturally.

Foodie Wedding, a popular café at Jalan Serampang in Taman Sri Tebrau, first opened as a wedding gallery.  This was where photographer, Gucci Wong, usually arranged an early start for pre-wedding photography in his studio.  His clients would arrive at the crack of dawn – usually without eating any breakfast – to put on their bridal make-up before dressing for the day-long photography session.

A serving of Le Breakfast Wedding at Foodie Wedding
These photography sessions are often long-drawn and stressful so Wong decided to make their time more pleasant by kicking-off the day with a fortifying European breakfast.  Aptly named, Le Breakfast Wedding, it comes in a portion large enough to be shared by the couple.  This big breakfast of juicy pork sausages, streaky pork bacon, a poppy seed bagel, scrambled eggs, roasted tomatoes, potato tots and wild arugula salad, remains a popular signature item in the menu at Foodie Wedding.

This café has since garnered a regular clientele of non-wedding package customers as well as married couples who had an unforgettable breakfast experience on their pre-wedding photography day here.  Many new diners also ended up as wedding clients when they are introduced to Wong’s wedding packages.  Early risers also like this cafe because they can savour a hearty European breakfast from as early as 7.30am!

Facade of Cafe Racer by night
Over in Taman Pelangi, Café Racer, as its name describes, is a biker themed café that not only serves a satisfying menu but is also a bikers’ haven.  It’s the brainchild of Chef Gary “Ozzy” Hong, a biking enthusiast and member of Militia Riders Motorcycle Club, who designed this café with bikers in mind. 

A double-storey shop unit is turned into a café decorated by vintage motor-bicycles and scooters, biking paraphernalia and a range of interesting helmets.  Regulars feel at home, seated near bikes, rims and rubber tyres, and dining on delicious food, quite unperturbed by the faint but familiar scent of motor oil.  

Café Racer is a preferred venue for biking events and a frequent hangout for biker enthusiasts from throughout the nation, who enjoy riding to popular food destinations.  Diners – from bikers, VIP guests to members of the Johor royal family – enjoy capturing special mementoes at a wat aphoto booth where they may pose, seated on motorbikes against a cool backdrop of the Café Racer logo.

A frosted wine glass at sunset, at Eight on Lido Hill
Sea & Saw and Eight on Lido Hill at Jalan Skudai, are popular chill-out choices for guests that range from celebrities, Hollywood personalities to royalty as well as ordinary people who want an extraordinary venue for a special occasion.  The lush greenery in matured gardens is a natural oasis for privacy and a world removed from the city humdrum.  Creatively designed in Spanish casas with beautifully landscaped gardens, these cool destinations are among the top picks in the city to make the best impressions and special memories. 

The gracious garden at Eight was the venue for countless outdoor weddings and special events.  Corporations that wish to impress their guests, often host private dinners here and Eight was also the venue for exclusive dinner shows for the Johor Baru Arts Festival.  After helping to coordinate intimate dinners for men who have successfully proposed to their girlfriends, the team at Eight have proven to be quite adept at pulling off pleasant surprises with happy endings!

Herbs and spices are grown along the
garden wall at Rowan & Parsley food atelier
Eight is part of the life history for many couples.  A particular pair hosted their engagement party here after she accepted his proposal at Eight.  Then they worked with the team to hold a memorable garden wedding here.  Recently they returned to Eight to host a special baby shower to celebrate the birth of their firstborn – not just an exclusively ladies event – but an occasion to celebrate with family and friends!

Then there are diners who prefer restaurants that grow their ingredients in their own gardens and discovered what Sea & Saw, Rowan & Parsley food atelier and Flowers in the Window, are doing to set them apart from others.

Rowan & Parsley is a cool sanctuary created within a warehouse at a light industrial area and grows useful herbs and spices in their garden.  At Sea & Saw, the cultivation of hydroponics and herbs also supplies ingredients to their kitchen.  Diners not only enjoy the refreshing garden ambience in these venues, they also appreciate their use of wild-caught, fresh and local ingredients to create healthy artisanal food.

Regulars at Sea & Saw cannot miss the tastefully designed furniture that are both beautiful and functional because owner, Sea Wong, is also a furniture designer.  Some of his pieces are also used in Flowers in the Window, a double-storey café-florist at Jalan Dhoby.  Designed in a pre-war double-storey shophouse, this is a quaint flower shop that also serves brunch, lunch and dinner, using fresh ingredients with edible flowers on some dishes!

Wall art created from a collection of
wooden drum sticks in the Drums Cafe
Another cool hipster place is Pot’s, a tiny café that started at Jalan Pahang as Pot’s Kitchen and developed into Pot’s Industries.  The team at Pot’s recognized that they were not just a kitchen that serves interesting café fare but a multi-faceted destination with a range of activities like surfboard making, vintage bike refurbishing, a t-shirt and accessories boutique and even a reading room.  Aptly named, Baca, this reading room at Pot’s encourages diners to borrow books to read and chill out in the café.

One of the newcomers in the city’s heritage quarter is the Drums Café, a destination with its décor inspired by the 24 Festive Drums’ art of drumming.  The drum theme is evident from its façade to the furniture, with many tables created from drum tops and drums suspended from the ceiling.  The natural scarring on the worn leather is proof of how these old drums were put to good use to promote this unique art of drumming that was proudly born in JB.

From inculcating values and passion for culture, developing hobbies and responsibilities like what they are doing with a petting zoo at the Cats At Their Sanctuary or CATS Café, these are just some of the interesting destinations in our city that are certainly more than just places to dine.

A version of this was published in on 9 May 2016

Next exciting episode:  Good business etiquette 

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