KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 7 — For four years, spa lovers and health enthusiasts found a sanctuary in Nada Lama Spa & Jamu Bar, set among the leafy settings of Bukit Lanjan not far from Damansara Perdana.
In a wooden house built in traditional Malay architectural style, visitors enjoyed relaxing massages, a selection of health-boosting jamu (tonics brewed from spices and herbs) and a small menu of Indonesian delights at their in-house cafe, Warung.
When Nada closed down about two years ago due to concerns over safety after landslides in the area, regulars thought they’d enjoyed the last of Warung’s food but luckily for them, Nada owner Pamela Noer has now teamed up with a group of collaborators to set up Konscious Cafe.
Occupying a corner space that’s actually part of Clean Pro laundry next door, the cafe is decked out in antique wooden furniture relocated from Nada and sports that familiar homey, rustic vibe.
The walls are painted stark black and soft greys, with the menu handwritten across the former while small artistic touches lend the warm interiors some bright touches.
Besides jamu – though now whittled down to just the turmeric variant, which was their most popular – and some of Warung’s bestsellers, Konscious’s menu is guided by a belief in the simplicity of cooking and the use of all-natural ingredients.
“Traditionally, our food was all organic,” says Pamela, “I want to bring that back at the cafe; food that is soulful, that fills and also fulfils.”
About 95 per cent of the food served at Konscious is organic; everything else is all natural and all fresh ingredients are first soaked in filter water from a Kangen purifier, the only brand endorsed by the Japanese Ministry of Health and which for 40 years, was used at hospitals in Japan.
Konscious makes their own gluten-free pastas while scones and buns are supplied by White Brick Oven, a micro-bakery in Sungai Buloh that’s known for their artisanal breads.
They also get some loaves from a baker who was formerly from Craft Baker, a company that practised stringent quality control in their organic produce. For their coffee drinks, Konscious opted for Incafe, a New Zealand-based roaster that uses Peruvian and Indonesian beans and supports Fair Trade. Several brands of organic teas are also available.
If that’s already enough to set your health-loving heart aflutter, there’s more. “We prioritise recipes that do not require salt, often replacing it with herbs, lemon and lime. When necessary, only Himalayan pink salt is used while apples and bananas are used in place of sugar,” Pamela reveals.
Their dishes also incorporate superfoods such as chia seeds, maca powder and raw shelled hemp seeds – which can also be added to any of the dishes for RM3 a serving.
The cafe’s eco conscience doesn’t stop at their food but extends to what they are served on. Certain dishes are plated on dinnerware by Fallaleaf, a homegrown brand of disposable and degradable plates and bowls made of recycled nipah leaf.
Order a cold drink and you can slurp it up using straws fashioned from natural bamboo, sourced from Sabah.
Using the best ingredients and purest materials is, however, only halfway to the kind of food that Konscious aims to deliver; the other important half of the equation is flavour. “We make sure our dishes are palatable so that even those who are not usually inclined towards healthy food would be willing to try and not feel like they’re eating rabbit feed!”
While former Nada regulars make up about 50 per cent of their current clientele and are therefore familiar with such cuisine, others are often surprised at how they manage to pack so much taste into every dish.
Konscious’ menu runs the gamut from South-East Asian light bites to wholesome Japanese fare, with some Middle Eastern flavours thrown in. Those who have dined at Warung would remember the Vegan Spring Roll, a refreshing Vietnamese-style appetiser that contains tofu and their house-made tofu mayonnaise, and the popular Indonesian salad gado-gado.
An interesting salad to try is the Burmese fermented green tea version, a bowl of raw greens, nuts and cherry tomatoes topped with a scoop of the spicy paste, made of pounded green tea leaves that have been fermented using kefir, a natural probiotics that they cultured in-house and that is also served as a drink. Naturally carbonated from the fermentation process, Konscious’ version tastes a little like a yeasty Coke.
Another recommended meat-free delight is the herb and pistachio falafel burger, a generous portion of a nutty patty sandwiched in a crusty sourdough and layered with vegetables and a pink hummus that’s made of beetroot and chickpeas.
While Konscious offers a good selection of greens, meat and seafood are also on the table. “We’re not trying to tell people that they should only eat certain food, we just want to share what it means to eat well,” Pamela explains, pointing out that diners also have the option of adding meat to the vegetarian eats.
There’s Kha Nom Jeen, a Thai specialty of rice noodles and raw vegetables tossed in a thick and minced fish sauce that delivers a nice kick of heat. For meat lovers, their chargrilled chicken is a must-try, served several different ways including in a Vietnamese banh mi-style spelt baguette sandwich with a slap of chicken liver pate and with gluten-free miso soba, Japanese buckwheat noodles in soup garnished with carrots, daikon, burdock and tofu. Hearty and comforting, it’s already a hit with Konscious’ customers and has been known to please even finicky young diners.
The diversity of Konscious’ offerings reflect the people who are running the cafe together with Pamela, a motley bunch of creative talents that include animators, illustrators, designers, film-makers, cinematographers, visual artists, photographers, a climbing wall builder, copywriter and public relations practitioner, with some of them wearing several hats at the same time.
Their backgrounds are just as varied: Malaysians, Japanese, a Russian, Maldivian and a couple of British nationals. Some of them are based locally while others shuttle around, but everyone comes together as often as possible and contribute in different ways.
Japanese-American Jayce Izumi, who is also a model and actor, conceptualised the menu together with Pamela and heads the kitchen. The chargrilled chicken is among his specialties, packed full of flavour thanks to a secret marinade, and it also features in what he promises to be the best rice burge: An overflowing bed of the umami-rich chicken, lettuce and alfalfa snuggle between crisped rice patties and lays on a bamboo leaf that you can use to hold the burger, with a side of house-made beetroot pickled ginger.
Former college mates and Jills of many trades Liyana Azo and Nadiah Almahdaly painted a striking visual – originally the cafe’s logo – above the menu of a figure reclining against a gigantic lightbulb with gnarly roots and the words “Prana Food.”
Aswadi Noor, who constructs climbing walls for Camp5, took charge of utility details like the piping and lights. Given the brief to do something artistic but not chaotic, he devised lamp shades out of Nada’s old foot soak bowls and matched them with copper piping for an antique look that’s in line with the rest of the decor.
Other members of the collective are Mohamed Sathom, Rusyam Sopian, Maxim Emelynov, Kai Yokoyama, Christopher Tsuji, June Tan, Thomas Buttery and Tom Price.
“We first formed an animation and production company called 100 Monkeys,” explains Pamela, who is also a film-maker specialising in travel documentaries. “As independent artists, we struggle to get funding for our projects while having a free hand to do what we want. That was why we decided to set up Konscious Cafe on a co-operative basis.”
The plan is to grow a chain of Konscious cafes, with each person in the group owning one outlet in their respective corners of the globe. From this first outlet, 50 per cent of the profit earned goes into maintaining it while the other 50 per cent will be used to finance the second outlet, and it goes on and on. Employees of the cafe will also eventually have the opportunity to call a Konscious Cafe their own.
In short, Konscious is a channel to raise the financial backing that each of them needs to realise their individual vision and also serves as a platform to support the arts and the artistic, like themselves. “We conceptualised Konscious to be a carefree place where people feel comfortable, get to meet like-minded folks and exchange ideas.”
Artists for artists
The cafe’s decor supports that: An interior grey wall and the side exterior of the cafe both double up as canvases for displaying art or for it to be painted on, and will be refreshed every few months. To begin with, Bristol artist Kyle Smart and Jordanian Sushii Firash have been invited to showcase their works.
Meanwhile, a large white circle on a smaller wall inside the cafe is meant for film projections, with screenings focusing on travel documentaries, awareness projects and smaller productions that are usually not shown at the cinemas.
While those projects are waiting to take off, Konscious continues to refine their menu and will be working with a nutritionist to see how they can further amp up the healthy elements in their dishes. Undoubtedly, the cafe is living up to their mantra of being “Hippie, Healthy, Happy” so the only other question that’s hanging in the air is their logo and signboard (the facade is bare at the moment except for the word INCAFE painted on a column, just look for Clean Pro laundry). “This is what happens when you have so many creative heads together,” Pamela says with a laugh. “Everyone has a different idea of what it should be!”
10 Jalan PJU8/3A, Damansara Perdana, Selangor Tel 03-7710 0129 Opens 8am-10pm daily; find them on Facebook
Vivian Chong is a freelance writer-editor, and founder of travel & lifestyle website http://thisbunnyhops.com/