KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 14 — Secret supper clubs and clandestine candlelit dinners with strangers are the hallmark of the underground dining scene. But what about those of us who prefer our secluded (and surprising) meals in the AM? Enter the Fancy Breakfast Club.
The Fancy “family” of four — Aida Azwar, Edan Hasan, Basira Yeusuff, and Faris Chen — offer a unique dining experience at their undisclosed (well, till you make a reservation at least) location in Bangsar. Unlike other players in the underground dining scene, the Fancy Breakfast Club not only shifts the focus from evening to morning, they are also open six days a week rather once a week or month.
Every month features a different concept. This month’s theme is Christmas Unhinged which was mooted by resident chef Basira. She says, “I was always the most fabulous and gung-ho about celebrating Christmas in my family. So for December, I wanted an explosion of Christmas cheer and spirit: candy canes and sparkly stuff everywhere!”
The menu is certainly worth rejoicing over. Begin with a pair of quaint glass jars containing bircher muesli and potted yoghurt with fruits. Snack on their cheese platter — this month, crumbly mild cheddar is paired with assorted dried fruits, nuts, and crackers.
Mains have a jolly Yuletide ring to them: Holiday Hash is a poached egg nestled on a bed of chestnut and sage stuffing, dried currants, pumpkin hash, and topped with arugula leaves. My favourite is Basira’s Brisket on a Biskit — a savoury biscuit piled high with shredded beef brisket, cheese, tomato, and pickled red onions. For those with a bit of a sweet tooth, try the eggnog-spiced pancakes topped with vanilla ice-cream, maple syrup, cranberries, and confetti — it’s truly Christmas on a plate!
The ambience is part of the draw. The dining area is flooded with warm colours and natural sunlight. Framed posters of Radiohead and The Police share the space with a vintage Singer sewing machine. There are board games and collectible figurines (look out for Iron Man and V for Vendetta). It feels like a home and guests are invited to be part of the family.
The seeds for the Fancy Breakfast Club were first sown when Aida found a little extra time on her hands in 2011. She says, “I was always interested in food photography and food styling. So I decided to start a home-based project with a friend indulging in exactly that. As my friend liked to go out for breakfasts, we called it a ‘fancy breakfast club’!”
Aida had to cook the dishes herself before styling it. She recalls, “There was no fixed schedule — sometimes we did it once a week, sometimes twice a month. Eventually we did it less frequently due to our jobs. While it was only a hobby at the time, it was a wonderful outlet for my creativity.”
At the time, Aida’s husband Edan was doing his small-scale plant business and was very supportive of her project. He says, “It helped to occupy her time. We referenced the supper club movement in the US then. We were inspired by food blogs, photographers and stylists.”
A couple of Aida’s favourite food stylists are Karen Mordechai of Sunday Suppers and Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle Et Vanille. She says, “As fans and followers, we can see them evolve and grow. I wanted that for myself too. I still don’t have a signature look and that’s a good thing. It depends on my mood or the theme of the shoot.”
In October 2013, Aida and Edan decided to hold floral workshops on weekends and wanted an all-round experience for their participants. Edan says, “We wanted our guests to enjoy the class, the food and even goodie bags. Since we couldn’t do everything ourselves, we hired Basira as our caterer and it turned out to be a really good decision.”
At the time, Bangsar-based Basira had closed her Crumbs Café in Lucky Garden but Yay, Sammich!, her catering business, was going strong. She says, “I enjoyed the process of working with Aida and Edan throughout the two-month workshop period. I also found out about the now defunct Fancy Breakfast Club blog. I only confessed during the last class that I was stalking their blog!”
The trio found a lot in common and discussed doing a pop-up together. However they soon got busy with their own projects and the idea was shelved till March this year. Aida explains, “We bumped into Basira at Bangsar Shopping Centre where she was having a Yay, Sammich! pop-up. The idea to do the breakfast club together came up again, and this time our stars were aligned.”
The Fancy Breakfast Club started officially later that month with beverage specialist Faris joining in April. He says, “I was and still am a freelance graphic designer. I first met Aida and Edan as one of their customers, and later joined their terrarium class.”
The couple found out that Faris was a barista in his spare time too, having worked at Starbucks and Epiphany Coffee & Tobacco. “I had also done barista training for another specialty café,” says the latte art lover. “The guys told me I could help the Fancy Breakfast Club to customise their beverages for their customers and themes.”
Initially the Fancy Breakfast Club quartet saw themselves as a boutique caterer, which meant they would take care of everything from end-to-end for events. However due to a lack of capital, they decided to start small first. For now, they define themselves as a multi-disciplinary “purveyor of experiences.” These days the word “purveyor” can be a tad overused; there are purveyors of cakes, crafts and even coffee.
Here though, the term actually applies as the Fancy Breakfast Club is indeed an experience like none other. For one thing, the experience is never repeated. Basira says, “We came up with the idea of having monthly themes as a way to show diners our spectrum and versatility. Others may only do one thing but we can switch it up all the time.”
So what are some of the favourite themes that they have done? For Faris, it is September’s Grand Budapest Hotel theme, based on the film by Wes Anderson. He says, “I was the only one who hadn’t watched the film at the time, though I have since rectified this. Imagine pastel-pink flourishes and course after course of desserts! Basira created her version of the patisserie Mendl’s signature Courtesan au Chocolat dessert from the movie. It was awesome.”
Edan prefers May’s Botanical theme, which is no surprise given his background in all things green and floral. He says, “What I didn’t realise was how Basira could take the theme full-on by tweaking every item on the menu to include herbs in such creative ways. The dessert was an edible terrarium made from chocolate dirt, tarragon-flavoured gelée, and a single basil sprout.”
His wife claims not to have a favourite as she executes all of the themes and concepts. “However the most memorable for me was November’s V for Vendetta,” says Aida. “Honestly, it’s because my husband pitched it and I purposely said no to it just to tease him! The poor thing had to pitch the theme a couple more times before we approved it.”
Domestic goddess Basira feels October’s Wabi-Sabi theme is the most personally meaningful for her. She explains, “Wabi-sabi is an aesthetic originating from Japan that is imperfect and impermanent. In fact, it’s beautiful precisely because of its imperfection. It was also our ode to the communal gatherings by Kinfolk magazine. We didn’t want them to think we ripped them off so we emailed them. To our surprise, they replied a week later with their support!”
Edan observes that wabi-sabi does not have to be purely Japanese in execution. “The concept is what matters. So we added a local twist by incorporating banana leaves in the décor and ulam in the menu.”
The different monthly themes are also a way for the Fancy Breakfast Club team to challenge each other and spur creativity. Faris says, “For example, everyone ‘hated’ Aida for the Grand Budapest Hotel theme due to the flamboyant décor required. Also, the desserts had to be prepared à la minute and were rather fragile so the walk from the kitchen to the table was a scary one!”
The Fancy Breakfast Club has regulars returning every month to see what is new. Basira says, “We are very thankful for them. We have one guest who is a home maker. She comes by a couple of times a week after dropping her kids at school to catch up with her friends and also for some privacy. It’s a home away from home for her.”
In fact, the underground breakfast outfit’s informal motto is “Welcome to our home.” It sure beats going to any old restaurant. On weekends, there are even individual place cards at the tables and guests are encouraged to get to know their neighbours at the communal table. It’s how they become part of the family, and really, given the season, isn’t that what Christmas is about?