This question has always fixated me as I visit every new outlet that has come out over the past year.
Over this weekend, I was enlightened by a tale of two sets of cafe owners. One is already established and has numerous outlets both here and overseas.
The other is a cafe that has been around for a few months and is run and owned by students. Literally.
The place is small and is deprived by an actual door thanks to our squared minded authorities who insisted on having a fire exit. The lack of a proper air conditioning and the less than desired location of having a bus stop just outside the entrance will put many people off.
Not Welson and Simple, the student owners of Holqa, which is Maltese for connecting people. Despite the space constraint, there is a sense of a warm bind of kinship when you dine here. Housing only half a dozen of tables or so, the decor feels inviting despite the cramped floor area.
Welson and Simple are still studying during the weekdays, and they and their student friends take turns to man the cafe. They are down to earth, sincere and almost reserved for the hospitality business. But they have a dream of owning a cafe, and seeing them achieving this so early in their lives is truly an inspiration.
|Eggs Benedict with Bearnaise Sauce|
Their fare is quite straightforward cafe food laced with a touch of Asian undertones. The eggs benedict was more than decent and certainly better than most. The béarnaise had a touch of spice added to it, and their choice of the fluffy, brioche bread was inspired.
|Braised Pulled Pork 3 Cheese Sandwich|
The same, superb brioche was also used for their star dish. The homemade pulled pork felt slightly over sweetened on its own, but was otherwise beautifully balanced with the luxurious overture of the trio of cheeses spread on the bread.
It was a hearty combination that seemed to work on every level of the palate. From the intoxicating infusion of east and west flavours, to the different levels of textures. A unique dish that was executed really well.
|Pulled Pork Aglio Olio|
The same pulled pork was also used in their spaghetti pasta dish that resembled more of an Asian bolognaise rather than a classic garlic and oil pasta dish. But a couple of vigorous tosses of the flavourful pork with the pasta, it turned out to be another winner.
A simple, straightforward pasta plate that ignored the usual trappings of cheese and cream and elected to have confidence in their Asian infused pork flavours to coat the spaghetti. Apart from the slight sweetness, this pasta is a standout among cafe food.
I was never really big on Korean wings, till now. This was definitely a hit among our table for that day. Juicy, succulent, well marinated and sprinkled with aromatic bits of fried garlic and a saucy, honey glaze coating, this is like eating wings with weed. It is that addictive
Almost carbonara should have been no carbonara. The watery cream sauce indicated an overdose of whipping cream into the mix, and I personally like my carbonara minus cream. In fact, it was a shame as I could detect a beautiful bacon aglio olio underneath and it would make an easier dish to finish sans the cream.
Despite this singular weak dish, Welson shows considerable promise for a chef. He does not try too hard, and seems to have a certain amount of confidence in his cooking. Which is important.
And he also seems to have a good palate, which is sorely lacking in a number of cooks these days. Even the so-called experienced chefs. There are, of course, refinements and improvements that can be made. And a truly great cook will know when to accept feedback, and when to stand his/her ground.
Simple manages the front of house and she and her team does a competent job despite sounding slightly reserved. Taking the time and effort to talk to your diners more, and engaging them with smiles and greater hospitality will make the diners have an even more pleasurable experience.
As to the other cafe story told to me by my friend, this was not only a revelation but an utter contrast. That sad, and somewhat lackadaisical establishment functioned sorely on making money, as spoken from that cafe owner himself.
Holqa, on the other hand, exists on the power of a dream. A dream by a group of youngsters that have yet to finish their education, but who are now realising their ambition of owning a cafe business.
So, why do people open cafes? Well, only the deserving ones do it because of passion and that is why on this blog, I will always champion the underdog with a heart. Cocky, money minded businessmen are better off selling second hand cars.
The Holqa Cafe
37 East Coast Road
(Literally Next to the Bus Stop)