MALACCA, March 8 — When I return to my hometown of Malacca, I often choose to spend my time in my parents’ house rather than venturing outdoors. I used to wander along Jonker Street, taking my time to explore the small alleys and peer into old shops. These days the sheer number of tourists means I’ll have to jostle for space or get nudged out of the way.
What used to be a haven for me and my childhood friends is now a heaving throng of people, especially on the weekends. Nostalgia now resembles a nightmare, unless you happen to enjoy mob navigation.
So it was with much glee (and relief) that I discovered a new hideaway, tucked away in a back lane between the historic Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat) and Heeren Street (Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock). Backlane Coffee — what an apt name! — is now my new secret sanctuary where I can catch up with old friends over a flat white far from the madding crowd.
To get here, head to the end of Jonker Street closer to the gaudy Jonker Walk stage rather than the end that starts at the Malacca River Bridge. For one thing, you’ll avoid the hordes of heritage hunters this way. Look out for the Koong Woh Tong herbal jelly outlet, walk in a hidden enclave of small souvenir shops and you’ll see the café.
Alternatively, enter through the back lane which gives the café its name. This side alley is found at the intersection of Jalan Kubu and Heeren Street (formerly known as “Kampung Belanda” or Dutch Village due to its affluent residents and their ornately decorated homes). Perhaps this is the best way to encounter the café for the first time, the way I would experience the small lanes and back alleys of my historic hometown before it became a top tourist draw.
The first thing you’ll notice upon entering the café is the long, white-bricked bar with a dessert display and an espresso machine humming away. A vintage vinyl record player housed in a turquoise “suitcase” plays nostalgic tunes from the 70s. (“Get up and boogie”, anyone?)
Burlap sacks that once contained coffee beans are now stretched against black piping frames to remind customers that Backlane Coffee is one of the rare places in Malacca to serve a decent flat white or short black. Yellow pendant lights dangle from the ceiling (itself a remarkable royal blue). Colourful dishes and cups make for cheerful dishware.
The walls of the café are adorned with antique items such as old-fashioned clocks and yellowed maps. There is a long communal table and there are comfy sofas for those who have been trekking all over Jonker Street looking for a place to escape to. If you are that person, you’ve found the perfect place.
Grab a seat nearest to the large windows facing the back lane; the natural sunlight will enliven your spirits and soothe your nerves. Time slows down here, happily so. Browse the shelves for just the right book to flip through and relax. Gather your thoughts and yourself.
Soon the aroma of freshly brewed coffee will be enticing you; time to order a cup or two. The Backlane Coffee house blend is a gentle mix of Columbia, Java and Sumatra beans. Balanced but not overly full-bodied, this medium-dark roast is perfect for milk coffees such as a cappuccino or piccolo latte.
Fans of latte art ought to be suitably impressed with the delicate designs. What catches my eye more is the accompaniment of a homemade cookie with every cuppa. In lieu of the traditional biscotti, this buttery cookie comes already stamped with the café’s name. Now that’s some delicious branding!
These “better-than-biscotti” bars aren’t the only baked delights available. Backlane Coffee offers freshly baked cakes, pastries and desserts. Not quite as refined as a Parisian patisserie (and thankfully not as hoity-toity too — folks here are friendly!), the treats here are made with honest love and good ingredients.
Macarons, the sweet French meringue-based concoction, are the bestsellers here. These seemingly simple confections of ganache filling sandwiched between two meringue biscuits made from egg whites, sugar, and ground almonds are harder to achieve than they look.
These are some of the lightest and most delicate I’ve tasted. Popular flavours include their signature chocolate, Earl Grey, honey melon green, lychee and rose, and gula Melaka (very apt given the location). My favourite is the not-too-sweet teh tarik macaron that has a subtle hint of coconut.
Another popular dessert is their multi-layered mille-feuille (meaning literally “a thousand leaves” in French) or “custard slice”; try their raspberry and praline flavour. Their titular treat, the Backlane Passion, marries passionfruit cream with chocolate mousse on a white chocolate base and is glazed with caramel.
Speaking of caramel, don’t miss their salted caramel tart if it’s available. The cream is salted with Himalayan Ruby Salt and the meringue topping is made with gula Melaka. Sounds divine? It tastes even better.
If you stay long enough till after sunset — the café keeps rather late hours close to midnight on most days — you will be rewarded with an entirely different ambience as the sultry Malaccan heat is replaced with an evening cool. The café’s lights lend an almost otherworldly glow to the space, and you will be reluctant to leave at the end of the night.
The only drawback, if one could call it thus, is that Backlane Coffee is unlikely to be secret sanctuary forever. With its casual vintage décor making it a magnet for Instagrammers and its desserts and coffee enticing foodies, expect more people to make the same discovery. Till then though, this is a hidden gem that recalls days of yore when folks would wander in the back lanes. Happy hunting!
129 Jalan Hang Jebat, Melaka
Tel: 06-282 0542
Open Sun-Thu 11am-11pm; Fri-Sat 11am-12am