Toppen is fast taking shape in JB

It was just 15 months ago when I witnessed the announcement on the development of Toppen Shopping Centre by officials of IKEA Southeast Asia and I’m here again to see for myself how this building is taking shape.

My view through this window is no longer a
construction site but the facade of Toppen Shopping Centre!
I’m ushered into the back-of-the-house (not the retail floor) of IKEA Tebrau, back to the same room where we first gathered for the announcement of Toppen Shopping Centre which is anchored by IKEA Tebrau, the first IKEA store outside the Klang Valley.

In this room, my eyes are riveted to its glass-paneled windows where I saw through to the towering cranes on the construction site some 15 months ago, but now this is being replaced by the façade of the Toppen Shopping Centre!

With its seamless integration with IKEA Tebrau and links with AEON Tebrau City, Toppen is poised to become the meeting place and the heart of the surrounding community.

Together with IKEA Tebrau, Toppen is all set to create a fun and inspiring day out in Southern Malaysia when it opens its doors in November 2019.

Ariel view of the construction-in-progress at Toppen Shopping Centre, featuring The Topp, rooftop community.
I take my seat in front of the big screen where (I’m sure!) they will later present a video of the building development thus far (and I was right).

While waiting for the event to start, Elya Eusoff, the event Emcee (who remembers me from the previous event) and I exchange comments about how the time has flown and here we are again at this exciting juncture…

The event opens with an introduction and we learn about how Toppen’s retail mix will offer Johoreans and visitors to Johor, a complete retail experience with great meeting places and spaces for family and friends to enjoy their time together.

Toppen will boast of a rooftop community hub dubbed, The Topp, which is set to attract visitors to a myriad of fresh retail, dining, e-sports and entertainment experiences, in fact a complete retailtainment (if there is such a word!) in Southern Malaysia.

Shopping Centre & Mixed Use Director
of IKEA Southeast Asia, Christian Olofsson
The first-of-its-kind in Malaysia, The Topp is a unique rooftop concept that features four distinct zones for visitors from all walks of life.

These interactive outdoor spaces will be complemented by over 30 Food & Beverage specialty and alfresco outlets, a rooftop garden, multipurpose courts, skate parks, a spacious piazza, kids’ playgrounds, a cinema, e-sports arena and even a water play area!

“We are passionate and driven to develop meeting places that become the heart and the hub of the surrounding communities,” said Shopping Centre & Mixed Use Director of IKEA Southeast Asia, Christian Olofsson.

“With the community at the very heart of our strategy, we are confident that Toppen together with IKEA Tebrau, will be a new retail landmark in South Malaysia, a true meeting place where customers and businesses alike can flourish and grow,” he added.

With close to 85% of its retail space already leased out, the call to merchants who want to be part of Toppen is to hurry up and secure a space here!

Then I discover the exciting, new-to-Johor brands that will open in Toppen!

These are Ben’s Independent Grocer (B.I.G), The Pantheon, opening its second e-sports area in Malaysia here, 9 to 9 – a first-in-Malaysia online to offline (O2O) by Hush Puppies – and Concept Haus, a premium streetwear and athleisure retailer.

Among the familiar brands coming to Toppen are TGV Cinemas, Harvey Norman, Sports Direct, Burger King and Marrybrown, and a local brand with fresh concepts, 7 Oaks.

Brand representatives at the Key Handover ceremony
My media colleagues and I then witnessed the Key Handover in a simple ceremony with several brand partners in this four-level shopping center.

Toppen is projected to attract some 15 million visitors in 2020, not only from Johor and its neighbouring states but also from nearby Singapore.

While adding vibrancy to the economy, this shopping center will offer thousands of business opportunities within the region and is set to create numerous jobs and career opportunities for the community in Johor.

“We are committed to creating market relevant shopping experiences that fit our consumers’ lifestyles and we do this by consistently identifying opportunities to improve the customer journey with new and in-demand tenants that reflect a well-curated mix of retail, dining and entertainment concepts,” said Arnoud Bakker, Head of Leasing, Southeast Asia of Ikano Centres, which is part of IKEA Southeast Asia.

Head of Leasing, Southeast Asia of
Ikano Centres, Arnoud Bakker
“Co-creation is something that we strongly believe in, not only for external relationships but for the mall space as well because it allows each tenant to work together and create a cohesive experience for the customers, while remaining diverse in shopping selections,” he further explained.

From the video screened, we saw the work-in-progress within the building and it was impressive to learn that Toppen Shopping Centre had already received its Bomba or Fire Safety Certification since May 2019.

IKEA Southeast Asia has over 15 years of experience in developing, owning and running successful IKEA stores and shopping centers in the region.

These include IPC Shopping Centre and MyTOWN Shopping Centre in Malaysia and Megabangna in Thailand.

With a strong track record and global experience, IKEA Southeast Asia is confident that very soon, Toppen Shopping Centre will be the meeting place and the heart and hub of the Johor community.

The commitment of IKEA Southeast Asia to the community is also seen from their initiative to widen the roads and create an extra exit into the Tebrau Highway to ease traffic flow within this area. [Construction is still in progress.]

After the event and refreshments, we are directed to leave the building via the IKEA Tebrau restaurant and through the store exit.

This route will inevitably take me through part of the store and I’m happy for an opportunity to browse around for any well-designed, functional, useful and affordable knick-knack.

[It’s no secret that IKEA is a store where I will always find something useful to buy.]

A view of the checkouts at IKEA Tebrau
Then I join a queue to pay and because the wait was getting too long, I look closer to find out the reason why.

With two customers ahead of me, I can watch how the cashier is dealing patiently with a lady customer who seems to be having difficulty in payment – part by cash and part by credit card – and she was getting increasingly agitated, to the point of muttering under her breath.

After a long transaction, she finally leaves the cashier with her purchases but not before releasing a loud shout (that really startled us!) But she was really weird.

Then I watch as the cashier deals professionally with the customer ahead of me, keeping his cool and remaining unperturbed.

Then she too changed her mind about buying certain items and this resulted in further delay while the cashier again telephoned a colleague to amend the bill which should be reversed.

Meanwhile, I’m privately commending IKEA for their staff training and Standard Operating Procedures to guide them in dealing with all types of customers.

With Zamri, my regular reader. 
I'm sure it’s all in a day’s work for the cashier but I can understand if he is unduly stressed, so my only wish is to complete my transaction smoothly and leave.

Then it’s my turn. The cashier politely asks for my Member Card and parking ticket (to endorse and waive payment!)

I pass him my IKEA Member Card and parking ticket and when he reads my name, he looks at me with recognition and declares, “You are that writer…”

After observing the earlier drama, I’m pleasantly surprised at his keen attention and I quickly respond in the affirmative, “Yes, I am.”

He goes on to tell me that he’s been my reader since his schooldays… while my eyes zoom in to his nametag which reads: Zamri and by then, my transaction has been completed smoothly.

I’m more than pleased to meet my regular readers and as I leave, I’m filled with a deep sense of pleasure as he wishes me well along with encouragement to keep on writing!

Thanks, Zamri. This was indeed a memorable and meaningful outing to IKEA Tebrau for the Toppen Shopping Centre event with IKEA Southeast Asia, and for me personally.

Celebrating 50 years of Sesame Street

“Celebrating Sesame Street 50 Years and Counting,” is the theme of the month-long exhibition happening in R&F Mall Johor Baru from now till July 14, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of this popular children’s television show.

A giant inflatable playground for kids in R&F Mall JB
I think it’s wonderful to introduce the children of today to the colourful characters of Sesame Street where generations of youngsters were educated in identifying the alphabets, counting numbers, friendship and good family values through play and fun.

It was like reliving my childhood again when I was at R&F Mall JB to see the entertaining and interactive activities for children and to meet with live-size character mascots for Elmo and the Cookie Monster.

The main concourse of R&F Mall JB was transformed into a giant Sesame Street playland that features popular Sesame Street 3D characters like Elmo, the Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, and even Oscar the Grouch in his dustbin!

Recognize these familiar Sesame Street characters?
There is a giant inflatable playground where kids aged between five and 12 years may enjoy the slides and dive into a colourful ball pool.

Every weekend in June, visitors may look forward to meeting with Elmo and the Cookie Monster live-size characters at their appearances at 1pm, 3pm and 7pm and grab the opportunity for photos with these lovable mascots.

There are kids colouring activities to enjoy and exclusive Sesame Street merchandise on sale during this celebration month.

On Level One, located just next to the entrance to the CIQ Link Bridge, meet the largest Elmo inflatable display in South East Asia, who is ready for more photo opportunities.

Introducing a new generation to Sesame Street at R&F Mall
“We are delighted to partner with Sesame Workshop in celebrating Sesame Street’s 50th anniversary this holiday season,” said R&F Mall JB Marketing Director, Daphne Tan.

“Sesame Street has been on air for half a century and we believe that this evergreen TV show will not only appeal to kids but also to adults who are young-at-heart,” she added.

R&F Mall JB, the first shopping mall opened by R&F Princess Cove Malaysia, officially opened its doors in March 2019.

The mall is strategically located close to the Singapore-Malaysia Customs Immigration Quarantine (CIQ) in JB and just one km away from the causeway that links Singapore and Malaysia.

The young-at-heart cannot resist a photo opportunity with Elmo and the Cookie Monster!
The CIQ Link Bridge is a fully sheltered and guarded 8-minute skywalk that connects R&F Mall to the CIQ checkpoint.

R&F Mall JB is located at Jalan Tanjung Puteri, 80300 Johor Baru, Johor.

For more info on the Sesame Street 50th Anniversary Celebration, visit or the R&F official webpage:

Vburg - From veg(etari)an bakery to cafe

It’s been three years in the making for three brothers and their team who are applying their talents and experience to provide plant-based food that not only looks good but also tastes good.

Facade of the Vburg Patisserie with the adjacent
Vbug Boulangerie Cafe (hidden by their delivery truck)
Each equipped with their own set of skills, the Tan brothers – Ian, Sean and Chee Seng – put their heads (and hearts!) together and committed themselves to creating something special to meet the taste of diners in search of vegetarian or vegan food here.

Ian tells me that it all started with Vburg Patisserie, opened in their family’s property located within an early phase of Taman Ungku Tun Aminah.

This bakery is living up to its tagline, “Baking Without Borders” and earning a reputation as a bake shop for a good range of vegan and vegetarian breads and pastries.

Customers in the Vburg Patisserie or bakery
To provide their team members with meals, they assembled a well-balanced breakfast platter and stumbled upon the idea to open a café to serve just that!

So they opened Vburg Boulangerie Café next door, to serve an All-Day Breakfast menu and started with a lean team of three – a baker, a barista and his brother Sean.

Fast-forward to the present where I’m seated in the cosy confines of the café with Ian, surrounded by the comforting sounds and smells of a busy café-bakery…

From its name, Vburg, where “V” stands for vegan and vegetarian while “Burg” is the short-form for burger, a type of bread, I can figure out its business identity.

A section of diners in the Vburg Boulangerie Cafe
The business is now operating with a 32-strong team and I’m ready for a tasting experience of their menu of food, breads, pastries and beverages.

Aware that more and more people are reducing their meat consumption and seeking vegetarian and vegan alternatives, the Tan brothers decided to embark of a culinary journey, beginning with baking a range of vegetarian and vegan-friendly bread and pastries.

Their range of breads include interesting recipes for loaves like Walnut Raisin Loaf and Sweetened Black Bean, Pumpkin Seed with Sesame Loaf.

A hearty seven-item breakfast platter!
Among the specialty buns available from the Patisserie or bakery, there are Purple Yam Taro Bun – made with purple sweet potato, also known as PSP, its short-form – Charcoal Apply Bagel and Seaweed Cream Cheese Charcoal Croissant.

I’m delighted to see that a classic croissant is served among the seven items assembled in a hearty breakfast platter, presented from their All-Day Breakfast (ADB) menu.

Diners are invited to customize their breakfast platter with their own picks from a range of food ingredients (that fill an entire page of the menu!) in choices of four, five, six or seven items per order.

I’m looking closely at this seven-item platter and can see (clockwise) a crispy croissant, sautéed new potato halves, fluffy scrambled (antibiotic-free) eggs, roasted tomato wedges, fresh lettuce, fried slices of tempe or preserved soya-beans, with Black-pepper Duo-Pulled Mushrooms (two types of mushrooms!) in the centre.

Irresistible Fried Lion's Mane Mushrooms
Fans of mushrooms will be happy that a selection of mushrooms are featured in a number of items in this menu.

Under Appetizers, there are Fried Lion’s Mane Mushrooms to savour with a side of tasty artisan Vegan Curry Mayo dip sauce.

The texture of these ‘meaty’ deep-fried mushrooms are a hit with diners who enjoy breaking down the fiber with a good chew.

In keeping with the current Korean food trend, there is also Yangnyeom Duo Mushroom – King Oyster and Button mushrooms – smothered in Korean-style seasoning, to enjoy.

A choice of soups: Corn Soup [Left]
and Signature Shroom Soup [Right]
The soup choices here must certainly include the ubiquitous Mushroom Soup and to savour, there are bread options like slices of Baguette, Chia Seed Baguette or Sourdough Rye Bread.

When I gently slurp a spoonful of this Signature Shroom Soup, I’m happy with its rich and tasty flavour and that it’s also filled with bits of real mushroom.

Among the other popular soup choices are Cauliflower Potato Chowder, Golden Pumpkin Soup and even a Boring Corn Soup!

No, there’s nothing boring about this Corn Soup but as expected, it tastes sweet from the sweet corn used to make this soup.

Ian Tan presents the PSP Burger!
As for burgers, diners are also invited to assemble their own from a choice of breads ranging from Sesame Bun, Charcoal Sesame Bun, Wholemeal Bun, Bagel Bun, Purple Bagel, Ciabatta and Croissant Bun, with the option to add-on toppings and side items.

But if you prefer to order from the menu, Ian’s recommended burger is the PSP Burger.

This is made with a Purple Sweet Potato Burger slathered with Beetroot Ketchup and Pickled Red Cabbage with the option to add a Bull’s Eye Egg and slice of Cheese.

This serving includes a side of Lettuce Salad and everyone’s favourite, Sweet Potato Fries.

For fans of pizza, the Margherita Sourdough Pizza comes highly recommended and it is of course, freshly made.

Staying true to its traditions, this pizza comes topped with Marinara sauce, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil to represent the national colours of Italy, complete with a miniature flag of Italy!

While there are many more items on the menu, we must save some space for dessert and drinks – fragrant hot coffee brewed from freshly roasted coffee beans by AlleyLab Coffee Roastery – to enjoy with a choice of cream cakes from the Vburg Patisserie.

Can you spot the miniature flag of Italy on this
Margherita Sourdough Pizza?
Some of the recommended cake choices are The Royal, a rich chocolate mousse cake, Granny’s Carrot Cake and Mango Mille Feulli.

Besides hot beverages, Vburg also has a menu with a Bar section for chilled cocktail-like Non-Alcoholic drinks, some made with coffee as an essential ingredient.

The talented barista-mixologist has a few tricks up his sleeve and was ready to impress us with a showcase of cocktails like Horizon, a layered drink that contains coffee, Pink Lady, good old Irish Coffee, and Spicy Tango, a drink that packs quite a strong zing!

Freshly brewed coffee to enjoy with cream cakes
Besides the bakery and café here, Vburg has expanded its services to supply its quality products on consignment to convenient outlets in various neighbourhoods as well as provide a Delivery Service for supply of bulk orders through their Future Food brand.

Deliveries at a minimum worth of RM30, may be arranged within 25 to 30km radius from JB with a token delivery charge of between RM5 to RM15 per delivery.

To allow sufficient time for preparation, orders for items like sourdough breads, cold pressed juices and mixed muesli jars, should be made three [3] days in advance.

Vburg Boulangerie Café is at N0. 72, Jalan Laksamana 2, Taman Ungku Tun Aminah, 81300 Skudai, Johor. Tel: +607 – 288 7118.

While the Café is open daily from 10am to 8pm, it opens from 9am on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to meet the breakfast needs of loyal customers.

The Bakery is open daily from 8am to 8pm. For more info, visit website:

Hooked on Hard Rock pins!

I’m at the Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast again, this time to meet avid Hard Rock pin collectors at their first pin collectors’ meet-up here.

The destination pin for Hard Rock Hotel Desru Coast
joins the prestigious collectibles from a worldwide map
of Hard Rock locations around the globe!
I pass the Rock Shop, stocked with signature merchandise, and it strikes me that Desaru Coast in Johor has joined a worldwide community of Hard Rock destinations of cafés, hotels and casinos because now there are Hard Rock pin designs that are unique to Desaru Coast!

Each Hard Rock location has its own destination pins and I cannot help feeling a sense of pride that the pins unique to Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast joins the prestigious collectibles from a worldwide map of locations where a Hard Rock property is established.

After the first Hard Rock Café was opened in London in 1971, the first Hard Rock Café pins were released and sold in 1985.

Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast general
manager, Clinton Lovell [Left] with VIP
Pin Collectors [L to R] Isabela Kelaart-
Courtney, Patrick Cheah and Azri Abdullah
Since then, a wide range of Hard Rock pins are available in each Hard Rock location with special varieties of pins often created to commemorate landmarks, occasions or events that are unique to each destination.

I arrive at the Constant Grind, the coffee lounge in Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast where the Hard Rock pin collectors are setting up the display of their priceless collections.

Our gracious host, Marketing & Communications Director, Grace Chiam, introduces me to the three VIP Pin Collectors – Patrick Cheah, Azri Abdullah and Isabela Kelaart-Courtney – who are deeply absorbed with arranging their collections to the best advantage.

Other displays being set up are by local collectors, Durai Rajah and his wife, Sarojini, from Bandar Dato’ Onn in Johor Baru, some Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast “Rockstar Band Members” as well as a team of collectors from Hard Rock Hotel Singapore.

The number of pins in each display and how each series of pins are attractively showcased, gives me a clear idea of the passion and commitment of each collector.

I then learn about the Hard Rock Pin Catalog, an online portal that contains more than 84,000 pins from the world over.

A precious pin from the Freddie series
And this catalog is maintained by Pin Masters, a volunteer group of collectors who are overseen by the Pin Master Advisory Board.

Hard Rock pin collection is more than a hobby as Hard Rock Pin Festivals take place at different Hard Rock destinations throughout the year and very often, funds raised from these fests are donated by the host Hard Rock destination, to a charity of their choice.

The event here is not quite a Pin Festival but a gathering that aims to bring together collectors to showcase their collections and have fun trading/exchanging pins.

Like a Pin Fest, a Pin Master – a volunteer curator of pins who is assigned a Hard Rock location – is also present.

I’m introduced to Pin Master, Patrick Cheah, who is assigned locations that include Hard Rock Café Penang, Hard Rock Café Kuala Lumpur, Hard Rock Café Kota Kinabalu, Hard Rock Hotel Penang and Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast.

Patrick, who is clearly passionate about his pin collection, happily announces that while this is just a preliminary gathering, the official first Pin Fest here is being planned for November 2019.

Patrick Cheah presenting his Hello Kitty pins to Grace Chiam
Patrick, who’s based in Penang, tells me that his collection started with Hard Rock caps and T-shirts since 1991.

He points to his first Hard Rock pin, a design from Hard Rock Café Kuala Lumpur, which he received as a gift in 2014 and declares: “This pin started everything!”

He explained how collectors come to pin gatherings such as this to showcase their collections and to expand their collections by trading their pins with other collectors.

There is no cash involved but a mutual transaction where the collectors both agreed upon (barter) trading which pin/s for which particular pin/s they each desired from each other’s collections.

Durai Rajah [Centre] and his wife,
Sarojini [Right] with their pin
collection at the event
Usually, the pins that collectors are willing to part with, are kept in their pin bags while the pins that collectors only wish to showcase are securely framed up for display.

Patrick opens his pin bag to a section that displays a row of eight Hard Rock pins in the Hello Kitty series of pins and graciously announces that he will present them to Grace Chiam, to add to her collection!

We clap and cheer as this pleasantly surprised Grace, whose reaction is just jaw-dropping joy!

Like Patrick, collectors Durai Rajah and Sarojini also started their pin collection in 2014.

He said his wife enjoy travelling and she helps in expanding their collection. Pointing to the “Guitar” series, Durai Rajah tells me that these are his favourites!

As for Azri Abdullah, his love affair with Hard Rock merchandise started in 1997 while he was studying in the US.

Azri’s hobby in collectibles include action figures and Liverpool FC jerseys but his Hard Rock collection also started with T-shirts before he got hooked on Hard Rock pins.

Azri Abdullah [Right] exchanging a pin with K K Lew
It’s been 22 years and Azri is still passionate about his pin collection, as we can see from his neatly framed, complete collections of various series of attractive pins from all over the world!

In fact, his house in Bandar Baru UDA, Johor Baru, is a veritable shrine for Hard Rock pins because even the walls along the staircase are adorned by his framed-up pin collections!

The youngest VIP pin collector at the event, 11-year old Isabella Kelaart-Courtney, was just five when she noticed the lanyards decorated with Hard Rock pins while she and her parents were in a Hard Rock Café in Dubai.

She asked her papa if she could have one and received her first lanyard decorated with four Hard Rock pins – an Arab Skull, a Skull with Headphones, Dubai Core Pin and a Guitar Pin.

Patrick Cheah traded his pin from
Hard Rock Florence with Florence Liew!
Since she became a Hard Rock VIP in September 2014, she traded her first pin in November 2014 while they were in Oslo.

With her parents, she has visited 54 different Hard Rock cafés and hotels, and her collection stands at over 3,500 pins and still counting…

Meanwhile, the pin collection on display by the team from Hard Rock Hotel Singapore is made up of the collections of eight individual “Rockstar Band Members”.

Hotel Manager, Liza Tan, tells me that her collection kicked off in Macau while she was heading the Hard Rock Hotel there.

This interest in Hard Rock pin collection has created a community of collectors and Pin Masters who share the same passion and enthusiasm in expanding their pin collections.

The excitement and noise level in the room gradually increases as I observe how collectors who spotted a pin they desire from another’s collection, will strike up a deal to trade one of their own to get the desired pin.

The encouraging response to this gathering at Desaru Coast is a sure sign that there are many Hard Rock pin collectors out there who are just waiting to showcase their collections.

Avid Hard Rock pin collectors making their deals to
to trade for their desired pins at the event
With so many international Hard Rock locations, pin collectors often plan to travel across the globe in their quest to collect pins from each destination to add to their collections.

They search for rare and limited edition pins and I’m told that some of the most sought-after pins are from Hard Rock locations in South East Asia!

From the stories of these pin collectors, I learnt that their collections started from just one pin. So it’s never too late to start collecting your own pins.

Just visit the Rock Shop to check out the pins unique to Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast.

Who knows? It may be the start of a journey that will be much more than just a hobby.

Pin Fests are not just for avid collectors but are open to all, so mark your calendar to join the first Pin Fest, happening soon at Hard Rock Desaru Coast.

Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast is located at Jalan Pantai 3, Desaru Coast, 81930 Bandar Penawar, Johor.  Tel: +607 838 8888

For info on more events and promotions, visit website:

Yummylicious is back!

Last April when my nephew and his family were visiting Johor Baru again, he longed for our family’s regular steamboat dining experience and asked if we could dine at Yummylicious.

A serving of the Fish Pot with fresh vegetables
and deep-fried fish fillets on the side.
Ever since we took our nephews and nieces to Yummy Steamboat in Century Gardens, a business which later rebranded itself as Kitamura Thai Suki & Shabu-Shabu at Taman Pelangi in 2010, they got hooked on the steamboat served here.

It was not just these youngsters but many regulars became fans of this family-friendly steamboat place for the past 10 years, for the wholesome goodness of tasty steamboat, served with personalized service.

Our most recent visit to Yummylicious was when the other nephew (his brother) and wife dined with us in a pre-lunar new year steamboat meal.

So when this nephew was here in April, he too wished for a Yummylicious steamboat meal.

These fish fillets are made from Buffalo Pomfret
Since I’m friendly with Albert Ng, the entrepreneur who runs the restaurant with the help of his daughter, Melissa, I would be tasked to send him a message to make our table reservation.

I expected Albert to reply as usual by text, with his confirmation and a warm welcome over again. But my phone rang and I was surprised that it was Albert calling me…

Instead of the usual confirmation and welcome, Albert explained that I had reached him just as he was recovering from surgery on his leg!

This was due to a fracture which he suffered after a bad fall and that the surgeon recommended proper post-op rest so that his wounds would heal better.

The Fish Pot simmering to a boil.
As such, he had no alternative but to close the restaurant temporarily until he was ready to be up and about again.

I know Albert is a hands-on entrepreneur who works hard to perfect his recipes and serve freshly cooked dishes from an ala carte menu – in addition to the steamboat – to add more variety and taste.

So with the help of modern technology, Albert then posted messages to his regular diners to inform that they will have to miss the familiar taste of chicken broth, herbal, miso or tom-yam soups in steamboat – at least for a month or so – while he recuperated.

As he was virtually immobile, Albert felt that it was wiser and less stressful to have a temporary closure before the restaurant reopened to operate in full swing again.

A new dish: Miso Chicken with a side of Mayo dip sauce
But while he was resting and recuperating, Albert assured me that he would be dreaming up new items to add to the menu when it was ready to open again.

So not only was my nephew and his family but a host of regular diners were also deeply disappointed for missing the familiar steamboat experience at Yummylicious.

Then recently in mid-May, I received a message from Albert that started like this:

“Dear Friends and Valued Customers, Yummylicious will be reopening after an unfortunate month-long hiatus…”

The message went on with an invitation from Albert to dine at Yummylicious – a name coined from his original Yummy + Delicious – because his restaurant was opened again!

Stir-fried Clams in spicy Thai sauce
Delighted with the good news, I quickly replied with warm words of encouragement and assured Albert that I would arrange to dine there again very soon.

When I met him again, his face was wreathed with smiles even though (I noticed!) he walked with a slight limp but I could see that he was ever so eager to get back into the routine of serving his regular diners.

In fact, he was still undergoing physiotherapy but was making encouraging progress in his recovery.

Albert went on to share that he and his culinary team have a few new dishes in the menu and they proposed to serve monthly specials, to add more interest to the menu.

The recommended Fish Pot is a hotpot that features chunks of fried fish fillets with a mix of fresh vegetables.

This serving is presented with a variety of vegetables in the pot with the fish fillets on the side. He tells me the fish is Buffalo Pomfret, known locally as niu chang.

Among the vegetables, I recognise Albert’s creation of Tau Kee made with fish paste on crispy beancurd skins which can be savoured either freshly fried or in the soup.

The vegetables included slices of fried beancurd, tomatoes, yam, black fungus and leaves of Chinese cabbage on a bed of more cabbage pieces.

I like this presentation where diners can see the items arranged in the hotpot before a serving staff comes to fill the pot with steaming hot fish soup and let it come to a boil.

My own mix of dip sauce topped with cubes of pork lard!
While this pot is simmering, I head over to the Sauce Island to create my own mix of dip sauce from a range of sauces and condiments including their signature Thai suki and green chilli sauce and other favourite toppings.

Albert is hovering nearby and probably saw me looking closely and wondering what that new item among the sauces and condiments was…

He then comes to clarify that its deep-fried cubes of pork lard… explaining with a smile that it was Melissa’s idea…

Back at the table, Albert said we could eat the chunks of deep-fried fish with the dip sauce or add the fillets into the simmering fish soup.

When the soup was cool enough to taste, fans of fish soup will agree with me that the tasty fish broth was both light and refreshing.

Now there is something for everyone to enjoy from the ala carte menu: From Miso Chicken served with a light mayo dip sauce to a platter of stir-fried Clams in an appetizing, spicy Thai sauce.

A fresh hotpot to enjoy a choice of ingredients
in a convivial steamboat meal at Yummylicious!
There are also familiar house specials like Pandan Chicken, Thai Fishcake, Pineapple Fried Rice, Fried Fish Slices, Fried Fish, Fried Tau Kee or beancurd skins and Fried Wantan.

When we have finished the fish soup to its last drop, Albert prepares a fresh hotpot with our pick of his classic chicken broth and he invites us to the chiller to choose our ingredients and bring them to the table in the baskets provided.

This is the dining concept that regulars are familiar with, where they pick a range of ingredients packed on colour-coded plates, hygienically covered by cling wrap.

The soup bubbles to a boil in the hotpot before we add in the ingredients and start to enjoy a convivial steamboat meal, along with our individual (Read: personalized) mix of sauce dips created from the sauces and condiments at the Sauce Island.

While I’m focused on enjoying my meal, I can hear Albert greeting regulars as they arrive in the restaurant and he seats them with his welcoming smile along with familiar chit-chat.

As the tables are gradually being occupied, I know Albert and his team at Yummylicious must be doing something right to keep diners coming back again and again.

Yummylicious Steamboat (Non-Halal) is at No. 33-A & 35-A, (Upstairs) Jalan Kuning 2, Taman Pelangi, 80400 Johor Baru, with air-conditioned and non-air-condition sections.

Open from 5pm to 11pm, Wednesday to Sunday only. Closed on Monday and Tuesday.

For reservations, Tel: +607 – 3360980.