Tucked away in the residential area of Mulaut is a home-grown restaurant which serves value-for-money Hainanese chicken rice.
Inside, the warm glow of lights and the fragrant smell of home-brewed garlic and ginger will lead you through the doors of Nasi Ayam Mulaut.
Although new, the restaurant itself exudes a sense of nostalgia whereby the interior oozes a classical kopitiam environment – the space is decked with treasured furniture pieces from the family’s previous business.
For many long-time residents of the Kilanas and Mulaut areas, the building where the restaurant is located used to be a well-known grocery store that belonged to Lim Chin Choo.
The store is fondly remembered for being the neighborhood hub for several decades.
Nearly all the Lee family had spent their time behind the grocery counter, including the assistant manager of Nasi Ayam Mulaut, Desmond Au.
“The building and the grocery store belonged to our grandmother Lim Chin Choo,” he said.
“The grocery store had seen its better days during the early 1990s and 2000s. Eventually, with the rising of Hua Ho department stores in the area, the business slowed down and became a less popular destination for the residents here,” he shared.
That is when the family found themselves forced to close down one of the oldest-running grocery stores. However, with one door close, another one opens.
From a grocery store to restaurant
Desmond explained how his family always wanted to venture out of the construction and furniture business. When the opportunity presented itself, the family opened up Nasi Ayam Mulaut in 2019.
“We noticed the strategic location of the building. The area is spacious and can accommodate ample parking space,” he said, adding that it was an ideal location to open up a restaurant.
The family had no background in the food-service industry when they transformed the old building into a restaurant.
Desmond said that at the beginning of their journey, it was not as smooth as they had to endure challenges and setbacks in opening a restaurant.
As a fresh graduate managing his first restaurant, Desmond admits he had a lot to learn from the family business.
Over time, one of the biggest challenges of running Nasi Ayam Muluat was the lack of experience in the food-service industry.
“The first few months of opening the restaurant were a challenge for us. Most of our staff, including my family, was inexperienced. We couldn’t manage the services at that time and received many complaints from our customers.”
Desmond also revealed that over time they were so relieved that their efforts and patience began to bear fruit and was well-received by customers.
Nowadays, it is not always easy to find an empty table at Nasi Ayam Mulaut during peak hours.
The family ensured that Nasi Ayam Mulaut retains the same close-knit and familiar service that has helped make their family business thrive.
Since the eatery started on the basis of family, they wanted to create a restaurant where families could eat together.
Desmond believes the family-friendly atmosphere is what keeps customers coming back time and time again.
He describes the community in Mulaut are very close-knit and supportive, where many of them would become their regulars.
He further shared that the restaurant was at a steady pace due to their loyal customers, but have dropped to less than half of what they were selling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The chef behind the food
Chopping up generous amounts of poached chicken onto the fragrant rice is the restaurant’s head chef, Draman.
According to him, there are so many factors that contribute to a good plate of chicken rice and among them are consistent taste and quality.
He brings a wealth of skills sharpened with more than 20 years of working as a chef with expertise in perfecting the most-favourite Hainanese Chicken Rice.
The 48-year-old started off as a waiter at another chicken rice restaurant before he dabbled in the kitchen.
Draman always had a fondness for the classic home-style dish, so he decided to join Nasi Ayam Mulaut bringing his own secret recipe into the business.
Their signature chicken rice, which is one of the popular dishes on the menu, according to Draman would sell around 300 per day.
“It would only take me 30mins to make about 100 plates of chicken rice,” he said.
All of the Draman’s meticulously rendered food stands on its own, with its distinctive and classic taste.
The well-known chicken rice
Nasi Ayam Mulaut’s signature chicken rice ticks all the right boxes in which all the components of the dish work together to create an exquisite combination of flavours.
The family-owned restaurant regularly draws a large crowd of guests hungry for the home-style version of the iconic chicken rice.
Customers can either opt for steamed or roasted chicken served with steamed white rice; both styles are tender and succulent with a generous amount of soya sauce dressing.
The rice boldly carries the flavours of the chicken and the aromatics such as ginger, scallion, and garlic are the star component of the dish.
Nowadays, no matter how many food trends come and go, the taste of yesterday is always here to stay – which is evident for the restaurant where the classics are especially strong in the menu.
According to Desmond, the menu of the restaurant revolves around affordability and comfort food.
Moreover, another customer’s favourites are the laksa; a dish that pays homage to classical flavours and traditional ingredients, and stir-fried kway teow.
When asked about future plans for the cafe, Desmond said that they are eyeing on adding more items to their menu to give customers more option and improving their services.
The Bruneian | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN