For six years, Chef Lai Noodle Cafe on California Street was one of the city’s most beloved places to find home-style Kuala Lumpurian food. Co-owner and chef Jimy Lai, his wife Amy Kerk and their kids Nelson, Admon and Gavin were among the restaurant’s drawcards – known for their tasty cooking and affable personalities. Lai’s Pantry is the latest iteration of that restaurant.
Like the original shop, there are few frills here. It sits among a block of shops on Hanson Road in Mansfield Park, with little more than four wooden tables covered with protective plastic, and a mostly stainless-steel open kitchen bookended by standard issue fluorescent lighting and wipe-clean menus. The family’s decision to move to the ‘burbs was inspired partly by a chance to bring a different cuisine to the area, which – for a long time – consisted mainly of Vietnamese cuisine and pizza shops.
For those who loved the original and its consistently great menu, the food at Lai’s Pantry is largely the same. Options might include a smoky char kway teow with rich wok hei (breath of a wok) punctuated by thick rounds of lap cheong sausage. In the pan mee, slippery hand-torn rice noodles swim in a light chicken broth with crisp anchovies and pork mince. There is, of course, Hainanese chicken rice, laksas of various flavours, and nasi lemak served with beef or chicken curries, or fried chicken.
Among the hero menu items you might find a yong tau foo, a Hakka Chinese dish of vegetables and tofu stuffed with fish mince served in a clear, yellow-ish broth. That’s if you’re lucky – it’s only available on selected days due to the availability of the fish. The modest bowl comes with a side of chilli sauce for dipping, and there’s the option to add noodles if you please.
Rounding out the succinct offering at Lai’s 2.0 are drinks teh tarik (Malaysian sweet tea), kopi and cold milo, plus desserts. Cendol, a sweet, icy pudding, is a lively mix of coconut milk, green jelly and palm sugar, while ice kacang is a hearty serve of finely shaved ice that arrives heaving under the weight of red beans, jelly and sweet syrup.