Dinner at Payung Cafe, Sibu

Payung Cafe Sibu

My better half came back with me to visit my dad during the weekend and since it was just a 24 hour trip, we only had *one* dinner and this is the place we chose to go to – Payung Cafe! I was one of the first people to visit when they started six years ago (we were even asked to name the first iterations of the desserts which are refined staples now) and I make it a point to visit when I’m back in my hometown.

Payung Cafe Sibu 2014

Payung Cafe opened in 2008 and it was very unknown back then since they only had dinner service and the place was shuttered during the day with no signboards. It didn’t help that it looked like the reception area for a marine survey company either. However, the same Joyce who gave us the number of Glory Cafe in Sarikei is also very active in a Chinese language local forum and a bunch of us paid this newly opened place she heard about a visit.

Payung Cafe Couple

The rest, as they say, is history. smirk

Payung Cafe Christmas

The food here is unique and the service is great. That’s what makes Payung Cafe a favorite among certain locals and visitors alike despite the relatively higher prices it charges on average. The Christmas decorations are up when we went – we opted to go to the original al fresco outlet instead of the new Payung Mahkota (which is located in the lobby of a hotel). I feel the former has a much better ambiance since the latter can be a little antiseptic due to it’s location.

For starters, we all shared a Pomelo Salad (RM 8). I love the choice, the pomelo comes in large chunks and the dressing is restrained, making it a fresh and vibrant dish. My late maternal grandma used to have a pomelo tree and I remember this fruit as being bitter but like Brussels sprouts, it seems to have been genetically modified to be less bitter nowadays!

Pomelo Salad

It’s sweet and juicy and we all were ready to dig into our main courses after popping a couple of the large chunks of fruit.

The special of the day is Sour Chicken (RM 16). It’s not on the regular menu, this is written on the chalkboard that lists what’s fresh and cooking on that very day and I like to order from here since I’ve tried most of their menu items. This is something I’ve never had before and all of us loved it! The chicken is moist and tastes appetizingly sourish.

Sour Chicken

I asked how it was made since we were all trying to guess what the sour element is and was told it’s a mixture of laksa leaves (Vietnamese coriander/Persicaria odorata/daun kesum) and coriander seeds (which provides the sour citrus tang). I highly recommend this dish – it’s delicious!

I also ordered Kacama Chicken (RM 16) for my dear. I wanted her to try this uniquely Sarawakian dish while she was here. Kacangma chicken is made from a herb the Hakka people call yi mu cao (益母草) or motherwort. The taste is like nothing else, it’s traditionally used as a “confinement dish” and the liberal use of pounded motherwort makes this dish taste bitter and earthy.

Kacangma Chicken

Kacangma chicken is always doused with copious amounts of alcohol which is intentionally *not* cooked off. It’s meant as a tonic as thus the alcohol is never fully evaporated or burned off – some preparations are so strong you can get *tipsy* from drinking the stew! Payung Cafe’s version is quite strong too but it’s delicious to me! It’s an acquired taste, kacangma…

Of course, the Otak-otak Fish (RM 13) is always a must-order when you’re there. The price has more than doubled since 2008 but if Payung Cafe had a flagship or signature dish, this would be it. They actually make it in-house every day! The ground fish meat with tapioca is wrapped inside a banana leaf and baked to perfection.

Otak Otak Fish

The otak-otak is served bursting from the seams and the generous use of chilli and tumeric makes this a dish not for the faint-hearted. It’s very spicy but if you can take the heat, you’ll love it. It’s very different from the steamed otak-otak from Johor or grilled otak-otak we get in Malacca. They really make one of the best versions around.

Durian Shake

My better half also had the Durian Shake (RM 8) – a very thick concoction sure to please all durian lovers and connoisseurs of milkshakes.

Payung Cafe Ling Dad

The bill came up to RM 82 for the three of us, which is quite reasonable for dinner at Payung Cafe.

Sambarina Ice Cream

We made room for dessert and shared a Sambarina Ice Cream (RM 8) which is made in a yin-yang fashion with large scoops of chocolate and creamy vanilla ice cream stuffed into a jumbo sized ramekin and topped with a mixture of crushed nuts and other crunchy bits. I approve!

Mulu Ice Cream

My dear loved the Mulu Ice Cream (RM 10) – a beautiful creation of huge slabs of their own ice cream layered and sandwiched with cake and cream and sprinkled with muesli. It’s a gorgeous and deliciously messy end to a wonderful dinner together.

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24 thoughts on “Dinner at Payung Cafe, Sibu

  1. Ahh, when I see Payung, I think of 5 things:
    1) The famous Payung rojak
    2) Bangladeshi lamb curry
    3) Kacangma chicken
    4) Mushroom rolls
    5) Jelly pisang
    But of all the items in my list, you only ordered one item – #3, teehee..

  2. Been there once as STP keeps promoting its delicious dishes to me. Lol. Love its Payung Rojak and Mushroom rolls!!

    Yes. I remember reading your 1st visit there. I told you I am your silent reader. ;)

    • We much prefer the Pomelo Salad! :)

      We’ve all tried both the Payung Rojak and the Pomelo Salad, the former can be a little too heavy for an appetizer and we get a lot of rojaks in that style over in Peninsula Malaysia.

      I’m not a huge fan of their mushroom rolls, had them in 2008 when they just opened too and occasionally after that. I do like their Otak Otak Fish though – it’s very different from both the JB style steamed otak otak and the Melaka style grilled otak otak.

      Thanks for reading Rose! I didn’t realize you’ve been reading since then. Cheers!

    • Yup, we loved the Pomelo Salad too! :)

      I asked my dear what she wanted – Payung Rojak or Pomelo Salad and she wanted the latter. I was also keen to eat the latter since Payung Rojak is too similar to the style of rojak we get in KL.

      Yup, the Otak Otak Fish is always a must-order when we go to Payung! I’ll always order it coz they make it in-house everyday.

      Oh ya, she never tried Kacangma Chicken before too, so I wanted her to try this very Sarawakian dish!

    • Yeah, it’s one of the better places to eat in Sibu! :)

      The ambiance here is good, especially at night with the cool breeze going. Their newer restaurant called Payung Mahkota is located at the lobby of a local hotel called Orchid Hotel – it makes the ambience very antiseptic and cold so I still prefer the original outlet.

      RM 82 for three pax in Sibu is considered a little on the high side for some locals – that’s partly why it’s not as packed as other restaurants (you can get a meal for much less coz it’s a small town) while it’s a *bargain* if you can get this meal for the same price in KL. Haha.

  3. My favourite dining place! Did they play the nice keroncong oldies that night? So nice. I think their sour chicken is their version of the sour duck – many, like my missus, do not eat duck so chicken’s the substitute. My guess on that dish!

    Hey!!! You did not order the Payung rojak!!! The jelly pisang? The durian ice cream… My blogpost tomorrow will be on this place…again!

    • Yup, it’s one of the better dining places in Sibu! :)

      The Sour Chicken was the special of the day, it’s really good. I asked what it was made with coz we couldn’t identify the sour component and it turned out to be a paste of laksa leaves and coriander seeds.

      You should try it next time you to to Payung Cafe – all of us liked that dish!

      Hmm…no one was interested in those dishes. We wanted to try new things and some old favorites as well, and Payung Rojak isn’t one of them – too similar to KL style rojak and we wanted something fresh so the Pomelo Salad fits the bill better.

      I quite like the Jelly Pisang from Peppers Cafe – it’s a little more authentic in the sense that it stays truer to the original, ice cream wasn’t readily available back in the days. Not that I know personally of course, that’s all anecdotes from my dad and other people who remember Jelly Pisang. Haha!

      I do remember KFC having a Jelly Pisang like dessert though…this was at least over 20 years ago and it was called Jelly Cup (or something like that) and it only had a scoop of ice cream on top of the jelly. It’s been discontinued though.

      We were thinking about having another meal or dessert so we didn’t order as much since we just had this one dinner and wanted to make the most of it – we planned to walk around and head to the food festival going in Sibu last weekend after dinner here and also to shop for stuff to bring back to KL.

    • Yup, he asked me for directions when I wrote the original review in 2008! :)

      I first knew about this place from one my coworkers called Joyce – she read that it just opened from a popular Sibu local Chinese language food forum and a bunch of us went that very night.

      The post was made in the forum by the owner telling everyone they’re open and asking people to come, if I remember correctly:

      http://sixthseal.com/2008/07/payung-cafe-review/

      I got to know STP that year since he just started blogging (a bunch of us encouraged him to write about food and he was asking me about how to setup a blog) and that was also the year I went out with him as a friend instead of a family friend (he was my late mom’s coworker).

      Yeah, the Kacangma Chicken is delicious! It’s a Hakka dish from Sarawak made with pounded motherwort leaves – it tastes very unique eh? My better half hasn’t tried it before so I wanted her to see what this is all about.

  4. six years, you do have a happy history with this place. if i’m ever in sibu, you can bet the first place i’ll target is payung cafe; i love the look of the unique dishes that you’ve highlighted … i wonder if they’d consider opening an outlet in kl :)

    • I doubt they’ll be expanding that far but it would be nice! :)

      There are a lot of local F&B successes e.g. Payung Cafe, Cafe Cafe (who also operates Zen, JackPork etc) but I’m not so sure they can compete with, say, the BIG Group’s restaurants like Plan b, BEAST, Hit & Mrs etc in KL.

      It’s a different playing field – KL has a lot more logistics support in terms of access to food, quality of food and both local, artisanal, and organic food on one side of the spectrum to imported goods flown in regularly on the other.

      However, this is one of Sibu’s best restaurants, and it serves up great food with fantastic service. Yup, you definitely won’t go wrong eating here if you come to Sibu!

  5. Read about this place so much in STP’s blog. The food is sure delicious. I have eaten kacangma once at this eatery serving Sarawak food in PJ section 13 a few years ago, not sure whether the eatery is still there or not.

    • Yeah, it’s one of the best restaurants in town! :)

      Payung Cafe is the place to bring visitors who come to Sibu to, the other one would be Fisherman Restaurant, which serves umai (a Sarawakian ceviche of sorts) and other local delicacies:

      http://sixthseal.com/2008/07/fisherman-restaurant-review/

      I think these two are the most popular places to bring guests new to Sibu.

      Sibu is so small though, word travels fast, I remember going to Payung Cafe (which was totally unknown back then) in 2008 coz a coworker of mine called Joyce read the owner’s post in a local Chinese forum to ask people to come and check out his new restaurant so we went that night.

      STP and a couple of other Sibu bloggers asked me about the place after reading my review and I relayed the address to them. It’s been popular ever since – it has the support of the local blogger community! Haha!

      I remember that was the year I met him as a friend too, coz he had just started blogging and had a lot of questions he wanted to ask me.

      Nice! I know there’s another stall serving kacangma in Lucky Garden. I used to live at 10 Semantan Serviced Suites, and Bangsar was about 10 minutes away, it’s the closest place you can get authentic Chinese food!

      Pusat Bandar Damansara (less than a minute drive) is a place that doesn’t completely doesn’t serve pork and only has a a chicken rice place that’s good so Lucky Garden is the nearest destination for Chinese style coffee shops and stalls.

      Good to hear that there’s on in PJ Section 13 too, would love to go and try their kacangma!

    • Yeah, I’ll say it’s one of the best restaurants in town! :)

      Both in terms of food and ambiance. I love this place and now that Payung Mahkota (their original second venture) has changed ownership, they’ve reverted back to concentrating on this restaurant and that can only mean better things.

      We loved the Sour Chicken too! I thought the mixture of herbs and spices is ingenious – coriander seeds and laksa leaves provides the acidic tang.

  6. Great this time we managed to visit Payung Cafe, dear.The last time I went back with you it was closed. I think your dad was shocked to see us had two huge desserts for that night…hahhah.

    • Yup, that’s good dear! :)

      At least we managed to eat something local and different since you don’t like the food in Fisherman and we can get authentic Japanese, Italian and other food in KL anyway. I’m glad you enjoyed it and my dad did too.

      Haha! No, it’s good coz he does like desserts he just tries not to eat too much sugar and other stuff.

    • Yup, the durians here are really good! :)

      I heard they just got a new batch in and made a new paste which is why everything tastes so fresh and so much like real durians!

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