Former Bank Negara senior exec gives street food new meaning

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Danial Tahir serving a customer at Bruno’s.Danial Tahir serving a customer at Bruno’s.Danial Tahir serving a customer at Bruno’s.

Once upon a time, you went to a restaurant if you wanted steak or smoked duck, and to a warong for fried noodles. Then, there was a firm divide between restaurant and street food.

But in recent times, several young Malaysians have breached this divide and brought a new dimension to street food. Low-rent premises like food trucks, food courts, roadside stalls and kopitiams are no longer strangers to the fancy food that was once the domain of restaurants.

By choosing cheap premises, these enterprising young people have been able to venture into the highly competitive F&B business at low cost and low risk.

And so, since November 2014, sous vide steaks, burgers and smoked duck can now be had at a very reasonable price at Bruno’s warong in Desa Seri Hartamas, an expatriate neighbourhood in Kuala Lumpur.

Bruno’s real name is Danial Tahir, 29. He was previously a senior executive in Bank Negara but left to give full rein to his passion for cooking. He was catering private events when he came across this cheerful red stall in a parking lot. It was a former Ramly burger stall which the owner was looking to give up.

Danial leapt at the chance.

The rental came in below RM1,000, and he forked out another RM1,200 to buy a sous vide machine which is essentially a temperature-controlled water bath to cook vacuum-sealed meat very slowly.

This slow-cooking method allows steaks and burger patties to remain juicy, and cuts down cooking time. It also meant that he could operate the stall by himself without hiring staff.

It’s all very informal – Danial cooks the steaks, burgers and smoked duck at his counter, and calls out when an order is ready. Customers serve themselves and eat under the shade of trees.

This keeps the costs down, and enables him to price his ribeye steaks at RM9 to RM12 per 100g, coming in at below RM50 a steak. Burgers cost RM10 to RM22.

This is a fraction of what a restaurant might charge. But Danial pointed out that a restaurant meal would also come with a lot more trimmings such as wait service, ambiance, more choices on the menu and drinks.

“We don’t have those here. What I do is to cook meat, and aim to cook it right to make it shine,” he said.

While that is true, the lack of ambiance hasn’t deterred customers. On his steak nights every weekend, he sells 15 to 20 slabs of meat a night, while the rest are burgers and smoked duck.

“It’s been trial and error, but things are doing well since we started,” he said.

He said he was lucky to find a cheap location in the upscale neighbourhood of Desa Seri Hartamas which has a high expatriate population. It was the right market for his offerings. He said he has received offers to open in food courts and other locations but so far, he prefers to keep things low-key and small.

Danial insists that his humble warong cannot be compared to a full-scale restaurant though he aims to keep standards high. Low cost doesn’t mean low quality.

“The emphasis is on the flavour, to serve the best meat,” he said.

The simple setting of Bruno’s where steaks can be had under a tree.The simple setting of Bruno’s where steaks can be had under a tree.The simple setting of Bruno’s where steaks can be had under a tree.

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