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The Coconut Club set to shutter and open in bigger premises

Fans of the popular upscale nasi lemak eatery, a pitstop for heads of states, have until end January to get their fill of the signature dish.

Lee Eng Su’s successful nasi lemak eatery The Coconut Club is closing in early February. But don’t worry, it’ll be back – and bigger than before.

Fans have until end January to get their fill of the signature dish as it will be another two months or so before it reopens in bigger premises at a new location.

“We’ve wanted to expand The Coconut Club for some time, because the goal was always to do regional Malay food,” says the chef-owner who runs this business with partners Lee Chan Wai and Kamal Samual . “Nasi lemak was just the first thing… so we’re working with our cooks to bring together traditional food from regions like Bandung, East Java, and Sabah where they came from.”

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While the new location remains secret, Chef Lee promises it will reopen by early March, and remain in the CBD. The refreshed menu will feature new dishes like satay kulit ayam (chicken skin satay) and burung puyoh sambal hijau (fried quail with green chilli sambal), as well as their signature nasi lemak.

Meanwhile, a new Peranakan “economy rice” eatery will open at the original premises, named Ben and Bernard’s. It is the brainchild of two staff from The Coconut Club – Bernard Koh, 62, and Ben Teo, 60. The former is a third generation ‘kopi master’ from the century-old Lam Kong Yuan Kopitiam, while the latter is a Teochew Peranakan who previously helmed Peranakan Flavours restaurant, after 16 years at Li Bai Cantonese Restaurant.

“The menu is a secret but it will be an explosion of Peranakan flavours, colours and textures. Besides the typical curry sauce or lor, our superstar is a rawan (buah keluak) sauce,” says Chef Teo.

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To make the cuisine more accessible, they decided on the “point-and-choose” style of economy rice stalls, so they can save on front-of-house labour and bring down the overall prices. “It won’t be S$5 a plate, it’ll be around S$10 to S$14 or more. But we understand the labour, how to maintain quality, and how to sell it that much cheaper,” he says.

If that’s not enough, he’s also started selling the same fresh coconut milk used for making their nasi lemak. Through the company The Main Squeeze Hospitality Group – which The Coconut Club and Ben and Bernard’s fall under – they’ve invested in a facility to make and sell under the new brand
Monkey’s Choice.

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“You either have fresh milk from the market that goes bad in hours or highly processed milk, where pasteurisation has reduced the flavour and chemicals are added as stabilisers. We’ve found a way to kill the bacteria in the milk while keeping the integrity of the flavour and texture for at least a week,” explains business partner Lee Chan Wai, who has a PhD in mechanical engineering.

With other expansion plans in the works, it’s clear that as far as coconuts go, this one is on a roll.

Ben & Bernard’s opens end-February

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This article was originally published in The Business Times.

Photos: The Coconut Club