At 2.30pm on a sunny Friday afternoon, most eateries are likely to be experiencing a lull – that sweet moment when only a few diners remain after a frenetic lunch service. At this point, servers might be languidly clearing the scattered detritus of meals left on tables, as the kitchen team takes a well-deserved break.
But at Nourish by Kenny Hills Bakers, no such thing is apparent. Instead, the eatery swells with a teeming mass of people, and new entrants to the restaurant frantically scan the space, hoping they can bag a table.
It’s a strange dichotomy – a packed-to-the-gills restaurant on a late weekday afternoon, but the eatery has clearly cast a spell on the neighbourhood.
Nourish is the brainchild of the same people behind the hugely popular Kenny Hills Bakers, the only difference being that in this outlet, owner Au Tai Hon has roped in his enterprising daughter Tzi Hua Au, who serves as the restaurant manager.
“I was in advertising for two years but as my dad’s business expanded, I thought it was about time that I step into the family business to help out. So now I’m full-time here at Nourish,” she says.
Nourish came about because both Tzi and Au noticed that many customers at Kenny Hills Bakers (which makes delicious pastries and cakes) were hankering after gluten-free cakes and pastries. Initially Tzi (who has some experience making gluten-free fare) started baking from home and supplying to Kenny Hills Bakers, but when the family discovered the already-designed restaurant space in Damansara Heights, they knew the time was ripe to embark on something new.
“It reminded us of the cafes in London where the sun shines through and you can see all the plates of food, so that’s how the concept came about and that’s why we have plates of salads on display in front.
“So we thought what better way to complement this than with gluten-free and refined-sugar free bakes, which a lot of people don’t really offer. And we think that the demand is getting higher for that,” says Tzi, who is also responsible for teaching the staff the intricacies of gluten-free baked treats.
Most of the meals at Nourish are made using primarily organic produce (about 60% organic) under the watchful eye of Tzi, who shares her father’s fastidiousness and philosophy about the benefits of making things well.
“Here, all the gluten-free cakes are made in-house because we can’t cross-contaminate. And we try and make everything from scratch – everything that we can make, we will make,” she says.
To fully enjoy a meal at Nourish, pace yourself and experience it in chapters, because trust me, you’ll want to make repeat visits.
If you’re here in the morning for example, you might want a sample of the breakfast menu, served from 8am to 12pm daily. You could opt for the gluten-free toast with house stone-ground peanut butter and berry compote (RM16). Nourish’s homemade peanut butter is a thick, chunky affair pockmarked with nuts that is enough to make you say (out loud, in my case) – “OMG, what witchery is this?” as you submit yourself to the pleasures of this simple treat.
From the pies and tarts on offer (all made using gluten-free crusts), opt for the quiche of the day, which if you’re lucky, might just be the roasted pumpkin with goat’s cheese, spinach and tomatoes (RM22) served with a salad.
This beguiling temptress is a fantastic example of multiple ingredients coalescing together to form a mouth-watering partnership – from the sweetness of the pumpkins to the salty overtures of the goat’s cheese, everything meshes harmoniously. The thread that binds everything together is the gluten-free crust – which has a firm bite but gives way easily once prodded.
The salad on the side – the harissa roasted aubergine with pomegranate, sesame seeds and dukkah is a surprisingly filling affair that features tenderly yielding slices of aubergine and a quietly lingering spice element.
For an afternoon meal, served from 11am to 5pm daily, there is a litany of things to try. The eatery’s salads are an option for those after light meals, but you can also opt to have your cake and eat it too, as all the main meals are served with a salad.
The classic roast chicken (RM34) with percik sauce features tender chicken blanketed by a rich percik sauce that is spectacularly good – creamy, fiery, piquant and incredibly well-balanced.
The salad on the side is composed of young mango, apple, walnuts, torch ginger buds and a homemade coconut mayonnaise and is an addictively good, tropical mixture evocative of kerabu.
The hearty corn bread and chilli (RM35) is made up of house-made corn bread, spiced mixed bean chilli, smashed avocado, sour cream and a poached egg. Although it sounds promising in theory, the corn bread is quite dry and this has a domino effect that effectively renders all the other components less appealing.
Perhaps the absolute best thing on the lunch menu is the crab cakes (RM34). Here, a crispy exterior gives way to an interior that is just brimming with plump tufts of crab meat, its natural sweetness lending a lovely aquatic quality to the meal. The salad on the side – in this case, the baby spinach, pumpkin and beetroot with balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs makes for a perfect complement, with fresh, earthy qualities shining through.
The eatery also has daily specials, like the stuffed boneless quail with spinach and cream cheese (RM30). Here, the quail retains a juicy quality that is supplemented by the creaminess of the cheese and spinach stuffed into its hollow. As a result, each mouthful glides down the throat effortlessly, almost like a child whooshing down a water chute.
Nourish also does a great job of nourishing parched throats, with a selection of homemade beverages like turmeric latte (RM13), sweet potato latte (RM15) and matcha latte (RM13). The first of the trio and the most trendy of the lot – the turmeric latte – boasts a potent hit of turmeric that becomes quite endearing the more you drink it.
The sweet potato latte on the other hand is an instant charmer, with sweet, root vegetable notes undulating throughout; while the house-made matcha latte has a charcoal-esque undertone that is strangely pleasant.
Of course, you can’t possibly leave a place with such a wide selection of gluten-free cakes without actually trying any of them. Which is why you ought to sample the orange polenta cake (RM15). Here, orange flavours form the building blocks of this dessert, perfuming the entire dish with freshness and zest. The cake itself is tender although some mouthfuls might yield tiny, gritty polenta granules.
The pecan pie (RM16) meanwhile is one of those hedonistic delights that you’ll find yourself easily falling in love with. Here, pecans are studded in a kaleidoscopic pattern across the surface of this pie, which is lightly sweet without being overbearing.
Ultimately, Tzi says she hopes that Nourish will become a place that people with gluten intolerances (and those looking for gluten-free options) can come to, knowing that there will be a wide array of things for them to eat.
“It’s been very nice to give back to people who don’t have many eating options. Like a customer came in and said she hadn’t had a pie in two years!
“And the sad thing is a lot of people with celiac disease or gluten intolerances don’t get pastries in general unless they make it themselves. And a lot of them don’t have the time or the skill to make it themselves, so this is a very good place for them to get all these products,” she says.
Nourish by Kenny Hills Bakers
No 35, Jalan Medan Setia 1
50490 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2011 6990
Open daily: 8am to 6pm
Note: This article was first published in Star2.