Dining in a garden

For a long time, Wong Hong Hai, better known as Sea Wong, longed to have a business that combined his passion for furniture, food and beverage, gardening, art and music.

Sea Wong, behind the counter at Flowers In The Window
His ventures, which started some ten years ago, has its share of ups and downs but Wong remains true to himself.  Despite temporary setbacks, he keeps moving forward until he turned his dreams into reality.  Behind Wong’s laidback attitude, is a steely determination to succeed.

“I’m attracted to simple things that most people overlook – I hope you like it too,” is the thinking which Wong shares with diners at Flowers In The Window.  I’ve heard so much about this indoor garden café that I must have my own experience. 

I head into the city’s heritage quarter and as I hold that spade designed into a door handle, to open the café door, I discover that its gray façade belies the charming garden within.

A Long Way

Facade of Flowers In The Window
This young Johor entrepreneur has come a long way since he took the brave step to open Roost Juice Bar a retro-themed café at Jalan Dhoby in Johor Baru’s heritage quarter, back in 2005.  Besides light meals, cold-pressed juices and chilled fruity yoghurt drinks, Roost became popular for his mother’s recipe Hainanese beef noodles. 

Wong recreated Roost’s laidback attitude in Roost Repurposed & Recycled Salad Bar, his next outlet at the corner of Jalan Dhoby and Jalan Trus.  As its name describes, the furnishing here was handmade by Wong from recycled materials. 

From lampshades, shelves, tables, chairs to benches, each item was creatively repurposed into attractive and useful furnishings.  This became a popular chill-out destination and for art & craft events but space was limited. 

Then Wong found a bungalow with a garden at Jalan Skudai to showcase his interesting furniture and host bigger art events.  He called this Sea & Saw, a destination with a garden setting.  He later brought this garden concept to Roost Juice Bar and rebranded it, Flowers In the Window.
Food and Flowers

A selection of posies and fern wreaths arranged by Wong
“I’m in love with green,” declared Wong when I ask him about the garden concept for the cafe.  Ferns, greenery and dried flowers are strewn about, hanging aloft, adorning the walls and in pots and enamel jars. 

With a clientele made up mostly of young adults, Wong aims to educate them about a sustainable lifestyle and show them how cool it is to dine in a space surrounded by greenery.

He hopes to send the message that it’s cool to enjoy plants.  Flowers In The Window is also a florist where bouquets or decorative wreaths may be made to order or customers may pick from a choice of pretty posies and wreaths of ferns and flowers, arranged by Wong.

Holly Tan adds an English touch to the menu
I can sense the vibe about this cool indoor garden café where furniture is eclectic and handmade and the food, creatively combined into freshly-made, light healthy meals, are served on enamel plates.  While Wong is the master juicer who makes the fresh juices and daily stock of signature tangy lemonade, he has some help from Holly Tan to design their weekly specials.

An English Touch

I’m pleasantly surprised to meet Tan, who’s obviously English and Wong quickly explains that she’s the wife of his good friend.  Tan brings with her a culinary experience garnered from helping her mother in their restaurant and delicatessen near Stamford, UK.  She also learnt a great deal about Mediterranean food from an aunt (uncle’s wife) who’s Greek.

A serving of Vegetarian Breakfast at Flowers In The Window
Every morning, when Wong goes to the fresh market to shop for ingredients, he will call Tan to tell her about what’s available and discuss about the dishes they can create from such ingredients.  So diners can expect five to six new and interesting items in the specials menu.

Every day, Tan bakes artisanal bread and a range of English cakes that are sold by the slice.  She uses edible flowers and herbs in the cakes and drinks.  Diners with dietary requirements may inform Tan and she will prepare for them something special on-the-spot, depending on availability of ingredients and time.

Light Healthy Meals

Popular beef noodles
Besides the printed menu of breakfast, brunch and beverage items, a separate menu – handwritten or typed on a vintage manual typewriter – lists weekly specials of light meals, drinks and English cakes.

On such a sweltering day, the tangy homemade lemonade (RM12.90) served chilled is both delicious and thirst-quenching.  It certainly whets my appetite for my order of Vegetarian Breakfast (RM16), a light breakfast of poached eggs, cherry tomatoes and plump mushrooms on a bed of zucchini and potato rosti.

A slice of Orange & Rosemary cake
As  customers are welcomed in, the serving staff hands them menus and directs them to a table on the ground floor or up the narrow flight of stairs.  These regulars seem familiar with this routine and must have acquired a taste for the fresh herbs and flowers in the drinks and cakes here. 

I notice lots of orders for Beef Noodles (RM14) coming out from the kitchen and realise that this has been popular with diners since it was first introduced at Roost. 

Tan’s freshly baked cakes are tempting.  I finally decide on a slice of Orange & Rosemary cake (RM13) which she serves, garnished with an edible flower.  I dig into the cake and its texture and flavour simply reminds me of England.  As I sip my hot Latte (RM9) and nibble the yummy cake, I’m totally charmed by my experience in Flowers In The Window.

Flowers in the Window café (Halal-sourced ingredients)
9 Jalan Dhoby
80000 Johor Baru, Johor
Tel: +607 – 2227489

Daily 10am to 9pm; Closed on Tuesday

Walking distance from JB Sentral via Jalan Wong Ah Fook and Jalan Trus; Jalan Dhoby is off Jalan Trus in Johor Baru’s heritage quarter

Homemade light, healthy meals

Creatively combined meals, English cakes and herb infused drinks

Service charge and GST charges

A charming indoor garden cafe

Child’s high chair
No Smoking
No Pets
Cash Only

Modern toilet in a prewar building

English-speaking staff

Go give it a try

A version of this was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 21 September 2016

No comments:

Post a Comment