KUALA LUMPUR, June 25 — Perfect cubes of salmon, tuna, cucumber, sweetcorn and tomato atop rice. A dusting of nori strips, the scent of dried seaweed so familiar and enticing. A small pot of green tea at the side, ready for pouring into the bowl for a satisfying meal of ochazuke.

It doesn’t get more Japanese than this, really. (Or Hawaiian, but more on that later.)

Japanese flavours have been on my mind since my recent trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. From the still warm beef katsusando at a popular bakery to a sushi omakase in a back alley izakaya, I still have the taste of Japan on my lips.

Which, strangely enough, meant that I had been avoiding Japanese eateries since my return to Malaysia. Perhaps that’s not that counterintuitive; who wants to compare and find the present lacking compared to the past?

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Fortunately, this post-travel ennui dissipated and I found myself dropping by Hello Summer, a somewhat secluded café in the bustling Maluri neighbourhood of Cheras. The location, though conveniently off the main road, can be a bit of a blink-and-you-miss-it due to the less than conspicuous entrance to the one-way lane.

Some might find this challenge a boon for it means when you do find the shop, simply arriving could well be the reward.

When we visited, the café only had two other occupied tables, which spoke to its tranquil venue. Our neighbours were tucking into Hello Summer’s most popular dish — traditional Japanese sukiyaki.

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Grapes Melting (left). Pouring the hot green tea onto the rice (right).
Grapes Melting (left). Pouring the hot green tea onto the rice (right).

Given the inclement weather of late, we could appreciate their choice of a hotpot of thick broth flavoured with sake and soy sauce. Dipping sliced pork or Australian wagyu beef, just enough to barely cook the meat.

Tofu, shiitake and enoki mushrooms, vegetables, carrots and shirataki noodles to ensure bellies stay full. A good idea, except sukiyaki isn’t really my thing.

Which is where Hello Summer’s signature ochazuke or Japanese style tea rice comes in. Ochazuke is quite straightforward: a bowl of cooked rice (sometimes leftover rice), that you pour green tea, hot water or dashi over.

Busy behind the bar.
Busy behind the bar.

What makes it interesting is the myriad toppings a chef or home cook might include, from seafood such as salmon and mentaiko (spicy cured pollock roe) to flavour bombs such as furikake (dry Japanese seasoning for sprinkling) and tsukemono (Japanese pickles).

Their ochazuke is available with grilled salmon, grilled chicken or umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum) for a vegan take. Customers may choose to douse their rice grains and toppings with either green tea or genmaicha (green tea mixed with popped brown rice).

What I had was Hello Summer’s poke bowl version of ochazuke. Poke bowls are commonplace nowadays, of course, in shopping malls and in health food cafés.

Chicken karaage (left). Summer Yam (right).
Chicken karaage (left). Summer Yam (right).

How many of us realise that poke (pronounced as po-ké; two syllables rather than one) has its origins in Hawaii, where the dish was created to make use of cut-offs from the day’s catch.

Which made this little bowl a culinary meeting of two worlds — one that tasted clean and light. Rejuvenating after all the uncertainty our climate (or, indeed, climate anywhere in the world these days) has thrown our way.

Japanese 'hambagu' with rice.
Japanese 'hambagu' with rice.

To quench our thirst, a couple of drinks with fanciful names: Grapes Melting, jasmine tea mixed with fresh grapes, for stirring with yoghurt; and Summer Yam, made from freshly mashed yam, fresh milk and yam boba.

Other beverages include a refreshing Watermelon Ice Lemon Tea and Summer Rock Tea, an ice blended fresh milk tea made with fruity rock tea imported from China.

The baristas have been busy behind the bar, mixing up these beverages. A labour of love.

The café’s mantra: 'Sky is the limit.'
The café’s mantra: 'Sky is the limit.'

There are plenty of Japanese snacking staples on the menu too: from chicken karaage and fried ebi (prawns) to edamame and gyoza.

For more protein, try Hello Summer’s grilled salmon with teriyaki sauce or their Japanese hambagu with rice; the patty is made from a blend of pork and beef. An onsen egg completes their Japanese curry chicken katsudon.

One isn’t likely to go hungry here. Perhaps it’s not hope or dreams that the café’s mantra — “Sky is the limit” — refers to, but one’s appetite!

Hello Summer 夏日即化

276, Jln Cheras, Maluri, Cheras, KL

Open daily 12–5pm and 6–9:30pm

IG: https://www.instagram.com/officialhellosummer/

FB: https://www.facebook.com/officialhellosummer/

* This is an independent review where the writer paid for the meal.

* Follow us on Instagram @eatdrinkmm for more food gems.