Monday, 28 December 2009

Topaz Cafe Lounge, Brunei

Recently, good friends Rey, Maril and Kimin opened a new restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine in Kiulap and I was asked to take some photos. For the past few days, I've been hearing from other friends how they've been extremely busy trying to put everything together within a month. The talk of the new restaurant had been recurrent since early this year, with Rey working on the market research. I was thrilled for them. They're all in their late twenties, all running other family businesses as well. As Rey and Kimin shared their business secrets and challenges with me, I could only beamed with pride at how they had bravely taken on this perilous venture where failure rate is high. Thanks to them, I began to see restaurants in a different light, with new-found respect.

The evening started with guests slowly pouring into the front area of the restaurant. They were mostly family members or family friends, with a few guests from the government and private agencies.

We were served appetizers such as mussels and toothpicked chicken ham, cheese cubes and cherry tomatoes, which were extremely delicious!

At the food-tasting dinner, the most fabulous dish was the Tzatziki (Greek seafood salad which I made sure I remember the name!). I couldn't stop talking about the dish. It was splendid! The squid didn't taste like squid, the prawns were crunchy and the sprinkles of herbs made the dish refreshing despite the rich salad dressing! I ordered another Greek salad the next day and it was also really good. This other one is an oil-based dressing rather than a cream-based one. Both are tasty!

The Minestrone soup was yummy though we found it a little salty. The following day, when I returned to the restaurant for lunch, they improved the soup with the saltiness just right! YUMMmm.. Some people found the bread too hard. I love breads like those at Supasave (which have a wonderful and strong bread smell) and didn't find the hardness a problem.

The stuffed chicken which I had on the opening night was alright. I thought it was too dry. Some friends thought the grilled chicken was dry too. I had a tenderloin steak the next day and it was really good! It was tender and so savoury! My bestfriend thought it's even better than Senja. I am not sure about it being better or as good as Senja. Senja has always been my ultimate place for steaks. And, I am glad that I can now go to Topaz for good steaks too. Another friend told me that he ordered a prawn dish for main course and it was good. I have yet to try the seafood.

My favourite drink from Topaz has got to be the Volcano Berry. It's light, refreshing, sweet and addictive. After the dinner was over, I sat with Kimin and Puff to have a chat while Kimin was taking his dinner. We were literally fighting over the jug of Volcano Berry! A guest, whom I shared a table with, pointed out that the Brewed Coffee was extremely good.

So, here's my unbiased take on Topaz:

Food Flavour:****Yummy drinks (Volcano Berry & Crazy Banana), salads (Tzatziki & another greek leafy salad), appetizers (mussels & toothpick food) and steaks (beef tenderloin).
Food Presentation:****Exquisite- and refined-looking.
Food Quantity:***I found the food portion just nice though my guy friends think the serving is little.
Ambience:****I love the rattan chairs and tables, which build private, comfy spaces for diners. The balcony area is wonderful for candlelight dinners or private hangouts with a view of Gadong's nightlights. It catches really nice afternoon breezes which makes it an ideal personal loiter as well.
Price:****I thought the price (view Tiger Lim's bill picture) was more than reasonable for the type of cuisine it is serving. Places like Palm Garden, Senja, Manjaro charge pretty much the same if not a little more. There is a restaurant along Jalan Muara which charges a lot more (we paid $80 for two - 1 appetizer, 2 soups, 2 main courses and 2 drinks) and the meal was most unsatisfying. I was so disappointed with the steak!
Service:**Service was alright and the food arrived slow on Christmas Eve. To make up for this, our drinks were not charged and the bill was halved. Another friend found the service good when he dined on Christmas day. Perhaps, the restaurant had done something to improve. Looks like Topaz is doing their best in giving their best.
Location:*****It's centrally-located in Kiulap, with parking spaces (I wouldn't say plenty). Simply love the looking at the grassy empty plot with the highway, pasar malam and the mall across.

Summary: It's a nice place with promising things to offer. I love the salad, steak and Volcano Berry. I don't mind a bit of waiting for good food (10 - 15 mins is alright. I have waited for about 20 minutes for souffle and it still made me so happy because that souffle was GOOD! ). I hope the serving time has improved.

Here are the photos taken during the opening:

Front side of Topaz

Managing director Rey making sure everything is ready for the opening ceremony.

Flowers of support from family members, some came as far as Liverpool!

Plaque to mark this momentous ceremony

Patissiers & kitchen helpers

Serving staff of Topaz with Rey

Interior of Topaz

Love these rattan seats. Kimin's mum made the beaded curtains!


Some relaxing exercise and encouragement talk by Rey to his staff members.

Rano covering the story

Guests gathering outside the restaurant

The opening of the restaurant is officiated by YAM Pg Anak Abdul Rashid

Topaz is now opened!

Official signing on the plaque by the prince

Prayers were said before the food-tasting started

YAM Pg Anak Abdul Rashid

Guests being seated and served. Gadong nightlights in the darkness.

Emcee from Turkey going around giving guests quizzes on Mediterranean food.

Tzatziki, Greek seafood salad. This is REALLY good and is a must-try! Apparently, one of the press members confirmed that it tasted like real Greek food after having returned from a trip to Greece.

What's serving for dinner?

Serving more than 30 people at the same time is hectic.

Beef Tenderloin Briami.

Stuffed Chicken Breast

Tiramisu - very delicious. I love how the coffee layer is crusty.

The simply irresistable Volcano Berry.

The plaque bearing Prince Rashid's signature.

Recognition for all the hard work on a crazy night shared by Topaz workforce.

Tired but still happy were these eager-to-learn Bruneian youths.

Hardship is all part of the learning process. Kimin and Rey are ready to stand by these youths to ensure that everyone (the staff, the management, and the restaurant) grows together.

Kitchen crew (and .. someone holding a Volcano berry at the left side of the picture?!)

Tiring and hectic day with many more challenges to come. Before the curtains open the next day, let us all get some really good rest.

Topaz eyeing a large slice of the Kiulap foodie pie
The Brunei Times

Reynaldo Lit (L) managing director of Topaz Cafe Lounge presents a gift to guest of honour, YAM Pg Anak Abdul Rashid Pg Kerma Raja Pg Hj Kamarulzaman at the cafe's launch. Picture: Goh De No

Goh De No
Saturday, December 26, 2009

Stiff competition from the increasing number of Food and Beverage (F&B) outlets in the Kiulap area does not faze the owners of Topaz Cafe Lounge from launching their eatery this week on December 23.

Hoping to tantalise Bruneian taste buds with their take on Mediterranean cuisine, Reynaldo Lit who co-owns the place with the other two directors, Marilyn Teo and Muhadi Hakimin Dato Paduka Dr Hj Hussain said, they are confident of achieving their targets despite the unfavourable economic conditions.

"If we don't take risks, we won't know what's out there," Lit told The Brunei Times during an interview, adding that his confidence is partly due to their staff, comprising 98 per cent Bruneians, who had undergone extensive training.

Muhadi Hakimin said the local staff show a lot of potential and are promising. "They want to prove that we Bruneians can be professional and this is good as we want to keep a high per cent of staff local," he said.

Also, the cafe lounge is offering a fine dining experience an atmosphere without the hefty price tag.

"We are not a fusion restaurant and all the ingredients here are fresh, of good quality and most importantly, halal. My two kitchen staff are ex-Sheraton employees and are capable as they are well-trained and experienced," Lit said, adding that one of them was with Sheraton for six to seven years while the other was there for two years.

Director, Muhadi Hakimin said that Mediterranean cuisine consists of flavours from a lot of countries, including Arabic and Italian.

"We don't plan to keep the menu the same whole year round, so there will be some changes to provide variety. The aim is to give customers quality service and food," he said.

The trio said there is little margin for error in this project.

Lit said he plans to play an aggressive role in running the business.

"I will be in both the dining and kitchen area as I've set high standards for my team and demand perfection from them. Topaz will also have an aggressive marketing strategy, we're not here to wait for customers to walk in, but instead we will be going out to get them," said Lit who has 20 years experience in the F&B industry.

The trio has met a lot of obstacles along the way and it took them almost a whole year to set up Topaz. "It was a really satisfying feeling for us to preservere and being able to officially open now," Muhadi Hakimin said.

The MD said they had to finance the cafe lounge through their own pocket as they were a new establishment and couldn't get financing from banks.

"They were really helpful but unfortunately we are considered as high risk, so we had to do it ourselves," Lit said, adding that they are looking to break even in six to eight months time but, it could take up to a year because of the unpredictable economy.

Muhadi Hakimin hopes that their venue can be a place where people hold functions. he added that they are fully booked during Christmas.

"In the near future, we will also have an open house style event to let people come and try the different types of food available," he said. Lit added that they will also recruit a pastry chef to boost their menu.

Topaz is located at Bangunan Habza in Kiulap.The Brunei Times

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