Upon hearing that an Afro-themed restaurant has opened in Singapore, I was very excited. A few years ago, when I asked a South African friend what the national food of South Africa is, without hesitation she said “our real national dish is South African Indian curry-rice!”
So there I was, one morning at Jiak Chuan Road in the Keong Saik area looking for Kafe Utu. Utu is short for ubuntu meaning essence of being human in Swahili language. The restaurant serves a combination of East and West African dishes and modern café cuisine as well. There I met Canadian born Kurt Wagner, the owner. Apparently, he was raised in Kenya and owns a few restaurants.
The café occupies the ground level and second level with the bar operating at the third level of the building. The bar opens at night only. The whole café exudes a warm and cosy atmosphere from the time you step inside. The staff are very friendly and helpful. The most memorable part of the restaurant is the food and the bold presence of the monochrome portraits of African women on the walls at the ground level. I decided to check out the rest of the floors before settling down to breakfast.
The second floor and third floor wowed me with the African theme. Intricate wood carvings, heavy wooden rustic looking furniture from Kenya, wooden counter tops, bright coloured cushions, a huge treasure chest, mirrors, imported hand carved doors, beautiful breathtaking paintings and many artifacts were put together to give an African living room setting.
The ceramic coffee cups and saucers, the bowls, plates, the tableware and even the hand-blown water glasses not only added owner Kurt Wagner’s personal touch but also the African vibes in the entire restaurant. I understand that the coffee beans and spices are also imported from Kenya.
The café’s menu comprises of various sections including brunch, dinner, drinks and “from Mama Africa” Utu Lounge Menu. Since, I was there for breakfast, naturally I looked at the drinks menu for my coffee fix. Coffee is so important to me for breakfast, so instinctively I chose a coffee that is not sold at any other cafes in Singapore (unless I am ignorant). The BidiBado is an Utu-style mocha that looks like any other coffee but will hold you spellbound with a medley of decadent tastes in your mouth. Ubuntu coffee, chocolate and Hokkaido milk makes your cuppa but that is not just it! The cup comes rimmed with creamy peanut butter, chopped toasted almonds and pink peppercorns. Don’t be judgemental – just go there and taste the coffee!
I ordered a Pan Con Tomate with House Smoked Anchovies and Garlic. It brought back memories of my days in Spain where I would order a Pan Con Tomate almost each day. At the end of my days in Spain, I understood that that Pan Con Tomate is one of the easiest dishes to prepare, yet it is not as simple as it seems. You will need only the following: bread, juicy Roma tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and salt. A good, crispy and chewy artisanal sour dough toast with lots of holes, like a ciabatta to catch the tomato juice; tomato sauce made by blanching and pulping tomatoes with good, fruity quality olive oil and salt are all that is necessary for making this dish. However, at Kafe Utu, they go the extra mile to top the toasts with house smoked anchovies, making salt superfluous.
I don’t know if you like anchovies but I am talking about the mouth-watering European ones that are brined and sold in jars or cans. I love the bold flavour and can eat several pieces knowing very well about the high salt content. When the anchovies are smoked they certainly add a depth of flavour without turning the overall flavor fishy.
At Kafe Utu, instead of serving customers with ready soaked toasts or toasts smeared with tomato sauce, they are served with the tomato sauce separately in a bowl. I liked it this way.
The Pulled Pork Breakfast was rather satisfying with the generous portion of tender, tangy, lightly spicy and smoky pulled pork made with in-house hickory smoked BBQ sauce, curried avocado and served with corn salsa, mini potato hash and topped with a wobbly poached egg. Though I like avocados as they are, the curried avocado served at Kafe Utu, matched the pulled pork breakfast set.
As a sweet tooth person, I definitely could not resist trying out the interesting desserts in the menu. The Malindi Halwa in the menu tempted me to try it. The word “halwa” caught my eyes. Being an Indian, I grew up eating many types of halwa. Naturally, I was curious as to how a “halwa” ended in an African themed restaurant. I found out that this particular halwa is very famous in the Swahili town of Malindi in Kenya. Definitely it must have an Indian influence so I thought. The Malindi Halwa was cut into bars, pan fried and very attractively plated. The owner, Kurt, told me that only natural fruit colouring was used to colour the halwa. To counter the sweet taste of the halwa, it was served with a savory crisp of filo pastry sprinkled with white and black sesame seeds. I ate a bit of the crisp and the halwa together and the experience brought a new dimension to eating halwa. While the halwa melted in the mouth due to its soft, sticky nature, the crisp shattered into pieces mixing with the halwa and giving a beautiful taste sensation in the mouth.
I am a big fan of canelés. A canelé is a classic French pastry made from eggs, milk, flour, butter, sugar and rum. It must have a delicate balance of sweet and savory flavors and a crunchy caramelized crust that gives way to a custardy interior and the one at @kafeutu had it all for me! This can only be achieved if the caneles are made in copper moulds. Copper enhances the pastry by caramelizing crust and sugar properly. The almost dark brown looking canelé was bitter sweet at the first bite because of the caramelized crust and as it slowly moves to the centre, it becomes fragrant with good quality plantation rum and vanilla. The canelé was served with blueberries, raspberries and cream and they all complemented each other very well.
At Kafe Utu, service standard is very good and the staff are able to explain the menu well. I certainly will go back to Kafe Utu again and again if I am in that vicinity. I do need to try their lunch menu!
12 Jiak Chuan Road
Tel: +65 6996 3937
Tue to Thu: 8am – 5pm, 6pm – 11pm
Fri & Sat: 8am – 5pm, 6pm – 1am
Sun: 8am – 5pm
(Closed on Mondays)
Web Page: https://kafeutu.com
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/kafeutu/