KUALA LUMPUR, April 21 – Venture out of your comfort zone. You never know what you'll get. Case in point: Sunbather Coffee (Sunbather).
Opened by the Beh siblings – Kok Boon, Chewyeng and Kok Aun – the cafe at The Sphere serves up Yoshoku (Western-influenced Japanese food), specialty drinks and desserts.
Hailing from Pangkor island, the trio's first foray into F&B was Thirdwave. Started in 2014, the cafe was born out of the siblings' love for coffee.
Most importantly, it was also a learning ground for the novices. "We were very young so we didn't know much about branding and business concepts," explained Chewyeng.
Throughout the years, the cafe held its own with a loyal customer base. Devout third wave coffee worshippers kept returning.
Gourmands appreciated dishes that reflected immense thoughtfulness. Think Danish smørrebrød rubbing shoulders with matcha hotcakes and Scotch egg.
Then, they hit a brick wall. "You don't really know how to expand and you can't see the potential any more," said Chewyeng.
With an over-crowded cafe scene and no clear concept, it was hard to push the Thirdwave brand forward. All they could do, Chewyeng explained, was to revamp the menu.
In 2016, they launched Kakigōri that serves Japanese shaved ice desserts. Fast forward to 2019 and they now have four outlets in the Klang Valley.
It was also a steep learning curve as they dove into the competitive dessert scene. A big part of the Kakigōri brand is their mascot, Yuki. She is envisioned as a snow girl from Japan who must constantly eat kakigōri to keep cool in our tropical weather.
Last year, when UOA offered Thirdwave a space at the newly revamped The Sphere, it signalled winds of change.
Going back to the drawing board, they pulled out the Sunbather concept. Earlier, they had worked on the concept for another venue but that did not materialise.
Once the trio decided to close Thirdwave, they went full steam ahead with developing a menu, especially after Chewyeng returned from London after completing her Bar examinations.
With Sunbather, they decided to go for a Japanese slant. "We wanted to find something of a niche in Kuala Lumpur," explained Chewyeng who pursued the same idea when they opened Kakigōri.
What she noticed in Japan was Yoshoku was more traditional so they decided to bring a modernised version here.
In terms of branding, they introduced another fictitious character known as Mr O who loves to relax, sunbathe and cook Yoshoku. As a tribute to their island origins, both Kakigōri and Sunbather also have water elements embedded into their brand philosophy.
Discover dishes like a good-for-you oat porridge which gets an explosion of umami, in the form of wakame, furikake, bonito flakes, shiitake mushrooms and shoyu.
The sandwich (sando in Japanese) gets a new twist here, as they use dark rye bread. Choose from a comforting ajitsuke tamago version with soft centred ramen eggs, or a maple peanut chicken version built with sous vide chicken breast, apples and maple peanut sauce.
A classic Yoshoku item, the hambāgu is also served here with demi glace or Japanese curry. Usually available in a beef form, Sunbather ups the game by also offering a chicken version.
Coffee was the heart of Thirdwave. Alas, the trio realised from their observations that third wave coffee only attracted a small, exclusive crowd.
Mindful of this, they came up with a more playful range of drinks. "We don't want it to be serious and boring for non-coffee drinkers," said Chewyeng. Hojicha kanten adds a nice dimension to iced latte or matcha latte.
Even their apricot ice cream is the perfect partner for an Ethiopian cold brew. Non-caffeine drinkers will be happy with their kuromitsu kinako latte, a comforting black honey and roasted soybean powder hot drink.
Refresh yourself with a strawberry milk compote topped with strawberry ice cream, reminiscent of a lighter version of a strawberry milkshake.
In devising their menu, the trio had to also consider the location and their customer's needs. Being located in an office area, the weekdays are focused on breakfast and lunch choices.
Breakfast starts as early as 8am during weekdays for the office workers. As the day winds down in Bangsar South, their hot kitchen takes a break after 4.30pm.
If you feel a little peckish after 3.30pm, there's shokupan Japanese toast. Baked in-house, the milk bread uses the Yudane method to give it a mochimochi effect: firm on the outside but soft and springy inside.
This is served with various toppings that range from a simple red bean paste, whipped cream and butter combination to a fruits topped version drizzled with osmanthus honey and Madagascar vanilla ice cream.
When weekends roll in, just like their brand ambassador, the fictitious Mr O, it's time to relax and chill at Sunbather. A special menu is available from 10am to 5pm.
Find surprises like buckwheat galette in their weekend menu. Savoury options like ham, cheese or egg and smoked salmon are available.
What is exceptionally good... the roasted grape and ricotta galette. Who knew roasted grapes infused with rosemary would taste so delicious with soft, whipped ricotta and thyme honey.
If you cannot start your day without your avocado toast fix, the Sunbather's version will add a spring to your step. Basil and cilantro cashew cream and pickled beetroot gives it a refreshing, unusual taste.
There are also other breakfast items available like their big breakie. You have two versions here. Thirdwave regulars will be happy to see they retained their popular big breakie with creamy scrambled egg, sausage, beef bacon, portobello mushrooms and charred cherry tomatoes.
If you want a new version, they offer a Japanese one with the likes of chicken meatballs, potato and egg salad, onigiri and tamagoyaki.
Graze on small nibbles like a lovely blue cheese potato salad topped with toasted almonds and dill. Or go for our favourite must-eat, their own-made sourdough slathered with ricotta and drizzled with lemon and thyme honey. You are served with garlic confit which yields meltingly soft, mellow garlic cloves. To squeeze out the garlic, plastic gloves are provided.
On a daily basis, desserts rule here from 11.30am till late. Banking on their expertise developed from Kakigōri, you will find similar items such as the light, fluffy Japanese roll cakes made without any baking soda.
In addition, there are ice cream and little treats that satisfy our sweet tooth. Sunbather makes their own ice cream in small batches. Chewyeng added, "Everyone loves ice cream."
There's Japanese flavours like matcha together with conventional dark chocolate and the more unusual olive oil. You can also pair the ice cream with crispy monaka wafers.
The little treats are a nice way to give you a ray of sunshine. Go for the refreshing coffee jelly with vanilla ice cream, or a multi-layered raindrop anmitsu. Dig deep to discover an element of surprise... watermelon cut in ball shapes. Who knew red beans pair so well with that refreshing fruit!
For teatime, they serve their parfaits. These multi layered desserts are a big surprise to their customers who have never seen the different combinations. It's not limited to Japanese flavours.
You will find the deconstructed feta cheesecake, inspired by the exotic Middle Eastern flavours. Think baklava. Or Turkish delight. In this cold, elegant form, you find filo pastry layers with rose scented ice cream and a decadent cream made from feta and cream cheese. Divine!
In devising Sunbather, the Behs definitely stand out from the rest with their own take of Yoshoku. Not only that, you also can enjoy their specialty drinks and desserts with unique combinations that are completely new to our dining scene in the Klang Valley.
So take a leap of faith... you never know what you will get, especially if you put thought and creativity into it, just like the Behs.
Sunbather Coffee is located at UG-12, Upper Ground, The Sphere, 8, Jalan Kerinchi, Bangsar South City, Kuala Lumpur. It is open from 8am to 10pm (Monday to Friday) and 10am to 10pm (Saturday and Sunday). Their Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/sunbathercoffee/ and Instagram is https://www.instagram.com/sunbather.coffee/