Eye Candy
Grace Lim 
Garden In A Jar salad

In the age of smartphones and social media, nothing escapes the eyes of those hunting for things that fit into their brand of aesthetics, whether it is clothing, places or food. Ian Eu, one-third of the trio behind Pan & Tamper café in Solaris Dutamas, can attest to that.

“Just this morning we had a couple who came in for breakfast, and they waited patiently for all the food and drinks to arrive at the table just so they could snap a nice photo for their Instagram,” shares Eu with a smile.

Of course, the couple had a good reason to do so. Pan & Tamper, which opened in May last year, gained a loyal following for its beautiful creations. This is thanks to all the travelling and time spent living overseas.

Eu and Vicca Ng lived in Australia for several years, and their third partner, Bernard Tee, lived in Spain for a couple of years. Of the three long-time friends, only Eu had a background in hospitality. Ng studied business while Tee was trained as an engineer.

“Vicca really wanted to work in the food and beverage industry, so she was the one got us together to open this café,” says Tee. “She enjoys cooking and so do I; Ian is our barista.”

Eu explains that Ng was very precise about what she wanted: a café with a laidback vibe similar to the ones she frequented in Melbourne. Meanwhile, Tee was interested in sharing his knowledge in Spanish cuisine, hence the blend of Melbournian-style plating and European dishes.

One of the first dishes that caught avid Instagrammers’ attention was the absolutely gorgeous Garden In A Jar, a salad dish made with organic trio quinoa, pomegranate, mango, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas and salad leaves with zesty dressing and topped with toasted almond flakes.

However, it is not presented in the usual deep dish bowl or plate – half of the salad is on a plate while the other half in a horizontally placed jar, so it would appear like the salad was pouring out of the latter. The dish is further brightened up by the use of edible flowers.

“To be very honest I find eating salads really boring,” Eu laughs. “What Vicca and Brendan have done was turn something so simple into something really interesting (to look at).”

Tee says that the idea came to him after noticing that salads served in jars were starting to become a trend in the UK. They simply took it up a notch and turned it into an edible “garden”. 

“Sometimes people come in and order the food just so they can take the pictures!” he notes.

Hipster-style exterior

Eu maintains that although presentation is important, the taste comes first. “If the food tastes bad then people will not come back,” he says, adding that their creative process is actually very simple.

“We watch out for food craze and what is trendy, and then discuss what we like about it. We take the parts that we like and express them in our style. For example, unicorns were popular a while back, so we created our version of the unicorn cake. It was actually a lychee cheesecake topped with fairy floss and a small cone,” Tee adds.

Several months ago, when the nasi lemak burger craze hit, they came up with their own unique take – the nasi kerabu burger. The dish, consisting of fried chicken, sambal, ulam and salted egg yolk sauce sandwiched between two rice buns, went viral for the two months it was on the menu.

Slow-cooked brisket with root vegetables

Even the menu itself is eye-catching – a booklet filled with beautiful photographs of their bestsellers. “Since all our food is so Instagram-worthy, we thought we’d highlight this fact in the menu too,” Tee beams.

The drinks are equally photogenic. In fact, one of their lattes has a pretty pink hue. “We came up with the pink latte for Valentine’s Day this year. It was a beetroot and chai latte, and there was such a huge demand for it that it has since been put on the permanent menu. Recently we introduced a black latte made with black sesame and activated charcoal, which is also getting a lot of camera clicks” Eu says.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 261.