by Rozman Mashor
These Shoes Were Made For Walking
Despite the fact that the Kuala Belait (KB) District in Brunei is roughly 111 km away from the capital — which depending on the acceptable range of speeds you drive at — will take you between 60 to 90-minutes time to get there; there are still some residents that rarely make that trip. I am one of those mythical creatures. Courtesy of my status as the ‘Bottomless Pit’, ‘Tong Sampah’, or ‘Jughead’ from the Archie comics of old, terms that makes up just a scant few of the several nicknames that others have attributed to my voracious appetite over the decades. I must admit to some cheek-reddening embarrassment regarding the lack of visits I make to KB. Why is that?
Well, for the most part it is because KB — the administrative district for the neighbouring oil town of Seria — is actually quite a happening place with regards to its pretty strong food & beverage sene. There are gerais (local markets), as well as kopitiams that cater to both the halal and non-halal markets with their purely local fare. Beginning a few year prior to the onset of Covid-19, there were a number of hop and modern 3rd wave coffee culture locales that had begun popping up in the vicinity of both Seria and KB that certainly warranted closer inspection, such as cafes, eateries, bakeries, and dessert spots. Heck there are even some older restaurants, unique fast food joints, and more established places that also deserved attention.
So what did I do to rectify this scenario? Simple. I skipped my early morning breakfast and dragged the rest of my team at biG to go on a food hunt. Now, this food hunt was based on a specific criterion. As a fan of transporting myself from place-to-place with nothing more than my own 2 feet, we identified a small area within which several popular eateries were spaced out within short walking distances of each other. After all, if you are going to spend a day stuffing your face with nom-nom delicious food, it definitely helps to spend some time walking it off. On top of that, some of these eateries also have aesthetically pleasing interiors which contribute to the overall experience of dining in.
With most of the urban planning in KB adopting a basic grid system of block for its residential areas, as well as out targeted food & beverage area of interest, navigating by vehicle or foot is a simple affair. Walking in a counter-clockwise direction that encompassed a rectangle — we headed north along Jalan Bunga Tanjong, then turned west for a bit along Jalan Bunga Raya, before heading south on Jalan Bunga Rampai, which ended back at Jalan Sungai where we parked. This area was chosen specifically for the narrower Jalan Pretty, which is a slender alleyway that cuts through the centre of this rectangle, and periodically branches off into alleyway where a few hidden gems can be found.
At the end of the day, as postprandial somnambulance (the fancy term for ‘I ate too much and lord help me I am going to pass out right here, right now) started to kick-in, the team made its way back to Bandar Seri Begawan, stopping off at the Seria Energy Lab and Naafi (the British Navy Army, and Air Force Institute) mini mart along the way.
Lighthouse Vibes : The Corner House
Specialising in breakfast, brunch, and lunch meals; The Corner House is a small spot that can accommodate around 18-20 people comfortably, and squeeze in roughly two dozen people in necessary. Locate on the top floor (3rd floor) of a building with its namesake visible from street level, and as a result of climbing a staircase that branches off to one side in an odd way, as well as the eatery’s floor plan, this spot gave me a strong lighthouse kind of vibe. This strengthened further by the open windows ringing half the interior like an angular hemisphere, offering good views of the Belait River. From Pulled Beef sandwiches and the Swedish flat potato dish called Rösti, to their pre-prepared brunch boxes, and Sunday Roasts, this qualifies as a secluded getaway for the duration of a delicious meal.
Lot 2, Shop 31, Jalan Pretty, Kuala Belait, Brunei | Tel: 673 333-2671 | IG: @thecornerhousebn
Open: 8AM – 5PM (Tues -Sun) (Friday: closed from 12PM – 2PM, Closed every Monday)
Large Tables, Larger Selection : Beanery & Co.
A popular spot with a lovely wooden interior, of which an inbuilt cabinet is stocked with an array of foodstuffs presented in a neat manner; it is the 14-seat wooden dining table in the public area, as well as another 10 to 14 -seater in the private room, that makes this locale popular for private events. There are a few smaller tables available if you are averse to sharing the long table with smaller groups or solo dinners all at once, but in that instance, we recommend calling ahead in advanced. If sharing that table is not a deal breaker for you, then tuck right in the ridiculously large selection of rice, pasta, Japanese Don-styled bowls, soups, sandwiches, wings, salads, Acai bowls, and sets designed for kids as well as for adults to engage in large group-sharing meals.
No. 81A/1, Ground Floor, Jalan Bunga Rambai, Kuala Belait, Brunei | Tel: 673 334-7772 | IG: @beanery.co
Open daily: 9AM – 10PM (Friday: closed from 12PM-2PM)
One Final Huzzah! : Just Momos
Nepalese cuisine, despite a few strong similarities to its Indian counterparts, it is a mixture and combination of exoctic ingredients sourced from Nepal, Tibet, India, and even China, and also incorporates various cooking styles from these regions too. They have only been 2 eateries of renown in Brunei that offers this, and unfortunately the time has come for the sun to set on Just Momos. This comes in the wake of the restaurant having earned the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Award for the 3rd time, which is highly dependent on positive customer feedback and reviews. So as a final huzzah, and show of appreciation to a business that helped keep out bellies full, biG Magazine recommends a meal or two here before they exist the scene in rough early-mid February.
Lot 82, Jalan Bunga Tanjung, Kuala Belait, Brunei | Tel: 673 334-8162 / 673 837-5492 | IG: @justmomosnepalirestaurant
Open: 10AM – 2:30PM & 5PM – 9:30PM (Wed – Mon) (Friday: Closed from 12PM – 2PM, closed every Tuesday)
Modern-Era Kopitiam : Lot 33 Restaurant & Catering
The eatery is a fantastic example of the modern-era kopitiam , with a selection of Southeast Asian fare that is authentic and tasty. The offerings may at first seem few when compared to some places, but here the focus is quality over quantity, and that is a concept we can certainly get behind. From their dry and wet noodle dishes, to a number of rice dishes and burgers, what stands out as unique are their Water Kefirs, which is essentially a fruit infused sparkling water, rich in probiotics due to it having been fermented, similar to Kombucha. With water paintings adorning the walls as an expression of identity, a simple but flashy logo that catches the eye, a minimal assortment of display items on a high shelf to one side, the combination of greenery and wooden beams — this eatery succeeds in presenting a cosy vibe to all who enter.
A5, Lot 408, Bangunan Maju, Jalan Bunga, Kuala Belait, Brunei Darussalam | Tel: 673 333-0006 | IG: @lot33.bn
Open: 9AM – 9PM (Mon-Thurs & Sat-Sun) (closed every Friday)
So Thirsty : Chapayom – Tea n’ You
With an inundated food & beverage industry it is more important than ever that the quality of service matches that of the offerings on a menu. While some locales are great at putting their game-faces on during business hours, there are others to whom it comes naturally. The KB branch of Chapayom — a popular Thai bubble milk tea franchise with 6 branches throughout Brunei is one example. From the manager to service staff, who were all genuinely warm and super friendly, we shared in light moments of humour and amusing chit chat as we snacked on golden buns and beverages that quenched our thirst on a super hot day. In addition, the slender interior that plays host to pastel pinks and blues, and luminous halo ceiling lights, makes for a cozy oasis from the glare and heat of the world outside.
No. 55, Ground Floor, Jalan Pretty, Kuala Belait, Brunei Darussalam | Tel: 673 737-3366 | IG: @teanyoukb
Open daily: 9:15AM – 8PM (Friday: closed from 12PM – 2PM)
Pretty In Pink : Slice By IA Gateaux
Walking down one of Jalan Pretty’s short alleyways brings you to an attractive entranceway with a wooden bench, and the message ‘Good days start here’, written in tiles before a pastel green door to which one side features a garland of flowers beneath an awning. This is the home of a bakery that since its inception has rapidly soared in popularity. Proof, you say? It opened slightly over 2 years ago in a small cramped unit, and has since expanded into the adjoining unit resulting in a decent sized space that is cozy and aesthetically-pleasing. The far end boasts a floral display that will have your eyes arguing with your stomach due to a desire to snap shots for the Gram just as badly as a desire to start snacking on their crazy-wide assortment of goodies.
H5MR+7MR, Jalan Pretty, Kuala Belait, Brunei (same black as Kaizen, along the alleyway) | Tel: 333-0006 | IG: @theslicebyia
Open: 9AM – 6PM (Tues – Sun), 7:30 – 10:30pm (Sat, once a week evening service) (Friday: closed from 12PM – 2PM) (closed every Monday)
Cure For The Heat: Sophie’s Gelato
Gelatos and hot, humid weather go hand-in-hand, which is why the appearance of this sweet scoop provider is much welcome. While businesses were shutting their doors in the face of our 2nd Covid wave, these courageous sibling entrepreneurs began planning and work on launching theirs instead. Spotting a gap in the ice-cream scene and noting an absence in their hometown resulted in what is currently a 7-month old confectionary provider that offers a 16-strong diverse array of artisanal gelatos on a rotational basis. Cups, cone, waffle bowls, it matters not, for regardless of the base you choose, the smooth and creamy goodness that is half of its namesake is oh-ever-so-good. The other half of its namesake — a tribute to one of the sibling’s daughters — is an addition just as lovely as the offerings. Say it with me everyone, “I scream you scream … no one screams when stuffing their faces with ice-cream”.
Unit 9C, Ground Floor, Jalan Pretty, Kuala Belait, Brunei | IG: @sophiesgelato
Open: 12PM – 6PM (Tues – Thurs & Sat – Sun) 2:30PM – 7:30PM (Fri) (closed every Monday)
That’s Bready Good : Marilyn’s Cafe
Falling under the category of Old-is-Gold, Marilyn’s Café is a restaurant that currently operates out of Kuala Belait, in addition to having a cake house based in the neighbouring Seria area roughly 15 minutes away. Now, while this locale offers a decent variety of meals, it is the cakes and scrumptious breads that have helped them carve out a bit of a niche for themselves as an eatery. Fluffy interiors wrapped in a fresh and crispy outer hull of baked goodness, the selection of wholemeal, spelt, and sourdough breads have led to people requesting if pre-orders can be made in advance, out of fear of potentially missing out should they risk chancing their availability based on a walk-in visit. Hosted within a medium-sized space that embraces a dark-hued ambience with spots of vibrante pop colours, a rough-textured wall, and miscellaneous items on display, it is good to see the lady in charge still around and kicking.
No. 12, Jalan Pretty, Kuala Belait, Brunei | Tel: 333-3066 | IG: @marilyncafe.bn
Open: 8AM – 8PM (Sat – Thurs) (closed every Friday)
Best of Both Worlds : Kate’s Cafe & Restaurant
The final stop on the biG Team’s walkabout brought us to the doorstep of a locale that only a few years ago looked drastically different to what we came face to face with. What was once a monochromatic theme that balanced on the edge of being formal and a bit cold in appearance, is now more welcoming and warm. Toward the rear the white wall is now matte black with customised brown shelves adorning it, to match the earthy hues of the tiles and laminate flooring. The central pillar reminds me of a vineyard or elaborate garden where a scaffolding of woodwork laces the pillar while green vines snake their way between from top to bottom, nearby a vase of vibrant orange flowers that present that ‘oompf’ factor. Renowned for both their Filipino and Indian cuisine, the exotic spices and cooking styles are a lovely accompaniment to this updated facelift.