POKC: Hainanese restaurant + hipster coffee joint = A big win!

POKC may look hip and happening but they serve heart warming meals and friendly smiles — Pictures by Choo Choy May
POKC may look hip and happening but they serve heart warming meals and friendly smiles — Pictures by Choo Choy May

PETALING JAYA, Oct 5 — Wholesome, hearty meals eaten with friends or family in a cosy environment are kind of rare these days as more and more restaurants strive to achieve a hip and happening ambience. Sometimes at the expense of the food. Blame it on Facebook and Instagram?

The newly-opened People of Kheng Chew (POKC) located in Damansara Uptown looks kind of like the latter but is really the former.

It looks like a trendy coffee place from the outside but once you step in, you are greeted with warm smiles and a beautifully designed space where you can spend hours eating and chatting with your family.

Opened by former bar owner Sheena Ng, it’s the perfect spot to tuck into authentic Hainanese fare or sip a cup of joe.

Three key people handle different aspects of the restaurant operations. There is Karen Tan, who as People of Keen Creator, is the person who designed the layout of the restaurant and handles the operations of the eatery. Sima Manan, aptly named People of Kindred Coffee, is the one responsible for your caffeinated needs. Ng also has a title — People of Keystone Cash. No prizes for guessing what her role is!

Sheena Ng, Karen Tan and Sima Manan are the People of Kheng Chew
Sheena Ng, Karen Tan and Sima Manan are the People of Kheng Chew

“I met Sheena in church and she was interested to start an F&B business but she hadn’t decided what type yet. We met Shima later when we were looking for someone who is an expert with coffee,” said Tan. Shima and Tan met through mutual friends and they both come from Sarawak.

According to Tan, who is of Hainanese descent, her inspiration for POKC is her grandfather who used to work in a Hainanese coffee shop. The term “people of Kheng Chew” refers to the Hainanese.

The decor of POKC is designed by Karen Tan (left). The POKC Enchanted Lamb Stew is satisfyingly delicious and hearty (right)
The decor of POKC is designed by Karen Tan (left). The POKC Enchanted Lamb Stew is satisfyingly delicious and hearty (right)

“The design of the place is a reinterpretation of a Hainanese Association and kopitiam. As you can see, all the chairs are different because everybody is different but we can eat communally at one table. We encourage people to tap toi (share tables)” said Tan. Some of the chairs here are actually from an old Hainanese restaurant that closed down.

Also, the story goes that Ng and Tan were looking to hire a chef for the new business venture. During that time, which was around April this year, there was a shortage of chefs and the only ones available were good at Hainanese dishes.

Thus, it was then decided that they would start a Hainanese restaurant where authentic dishes like roti babi, Hainanese chicken curry and different versions of Hainanese chicken chop will be served.

Authentic Hainanese fare is prepared with skillful hands by the experienced chefs
Authentic Hainanese fare is prepared with skillful hands by the experienced chefs

Before POKC opened, they invited other restaurant owners and foodies to come and try their food. One taster who came from a Hainanese background commented that the curry was authentic because “it’s just like how it was made at home, spicy and flavourful!”

“For every dish we had to make sure that it was the best version possible before we put it on our menu. I didn’t want to just serve substandard food that is not authentic.

“In the future, I do hope to serve Hainanese chicken rice as well but it has to be the best. If it isn’t, we will keep trying until we can perfect the dish,” explained Ng. The most important thing is to pass their own taste test. If the dish is not good enough for them, it would not even be considered.

Head barista Sima Manan is a champion of coffee
Head barista Sima Manan is a champion of coffee

One would expect Hainanese coffee to be served at POKC but instead, you will find specialty coffee. “We reinterpreted coffee to be modern using the espresso machine. We may consider making Hainanese coffee in the future but we would like to cater to the current market now. We want to target the younger crowd and not just be a typical kopitiam,” said Tan.

POKC get their beans from Papa Palheta, a Singapore-based roastery. “We chose this roaster because you can roast on demand and that way, we can get fresh beans,” said Sima.

The head barista usually orders what is needed so that everything is still fresh. In the future, they hope to get their own coffee blends.

POKC’s Affogato is served with Inside Scoop’s ice cream (left). Try the Hainan Grilled Koi for the tender, succulent chicken topped with cheesy goodness (right).
POKC’s Affogato is served with Inside Scoop’s ice cream (left). Try the Hainan Grilled Koi for the tender, succulent chicken topped with cheesy goodness (right).

For POKC, the Hainanese food is the main attraction although there are also other Western and Asian dishes available. The chef worked in a famous Hainanese restaurant previously for many years. When the business ceased operations, he was hired by POKC.

“We decided to open in Damansara Uptown because it is in the centre of Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur. During lunch time there is an abundance of office workers because there are many offices here. At night, it’s easy to find parking so people from the residential areas can come,” said Ng.

Upstairs, the tables can seat many people so it’s a nice spot for gatherings
Upstairs, the tables can seat many people so it’s a nice spot for gatherings

One thing unique you will find at POKC when you go up the stairs is the start of a love lock tradition, a popular custom in Europe where lovers write their names on a lock, lock it on a bridge and throw away the keys to declare their love.

One day, a couple celebrated their first anniversary at POKC and asked Tan if they could have their love lock on the grill. Tan didn’t mind so now customers are welcome to put theirs on.

POKC’s signature dishes are the roti babi, POKC Enchanted Lamb Stew, Kheng Chew Curry Koi, Kheng Chew Koi Burger and Cordon Bleu Koi.

No one does roti babi like POKC (left). The Kheng Chew Koi burger is mouthwateringly yummy and irresistible (right)
No one does roti babi like POKC (left). The Kheng Chew Koi burger is mouthwateringly yummy and irresistible (right)

Koi is actually the Hainanese word for chicken. The roti babi is deep-fried fluffy Hainanese buns with a minced pork stuffing. Flavourful and buttery, it is heaven in a bun!

The Kheng Chew Curry Koi is not for the faint-hearted. Super spicy just like the authentic version served in Hainanese homes, it is thick and very flavourful. You can accompany it with bread or rice.

POKC’s Buffalo Shots are out of this world!
POKC’s Buffalo Shots are out of this world!

The Cordon Bleu Koi is crispy and cheesy with slices of ham in between. Each bite is a delicious crunch of tender chicken. It comes with sides of sweet potato fries which are sweet and savoury at the same time.

POKC Enchanted Lamb Stew is hearty and it warms your tummy on a rainy day. Rich and satisfying, you can’t stop drinking it because it is so delicious.

For those who prefer something more Western, the Kheng Chew Koi Burger is the Hainanese Chicken Chop in a burger. Definitely a must-try for burger lovers!

Go check it out now!

People of Kheng Chew (POKC)
No.12, Jalan SS21/35, Damansara Utama,
47400, Petaling Jaya
Site: http://www.peopleofkhengchew.com
Tel: 03-7732 6080
Open daily except Tuesdays: 11.30am to 10.30pm

* Karen Tan and Sima Manan have since left POKC

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