Larry and Jack Chang | Co-founders of Soon Heng Social Club
Not for Soon Heng Social Club.
Soon Heng Social Club Is Ideal for Intimate Social Gatherings. Photo credit: Candice Neo.
Let’s just say that Soon Heng would definitely catch your eye when you arrive at this inconspicuous neighbourhood.
Stepping back into the ‘60s
Some of the Old-School Trinkets and Decor You Can Find at Soon Heng Social Club. Photo credit: lavieenrose (Instagram)
It’s a cosy space with a few dining areas where you can have heart-to-heart conversations, as though you are having a meal at your friend’s home – casual, heartwarming and intimate.
A Tikam-Tikam Board at Soon Heng Social Club. Photo credit: Soon Heng Social Club.
Soon Heng Social Club Bringing Penang’s dining culture to Kuala Lumpur
The Co-founders of Soon Heng Social Club, Larry (left) and Jack Chang (right). Photo credit: Options, The Edge
“But when you are in Penang, [you can just walk into any random hawker stall] and you will get okay food, it would be good. You’ll see people doing things very slowly, but they do things with the heart,” he said.
Jack, a chef who was trained at Sunway Le Cordon Bleu and who also provides private dining experience on chef-for-hire platform Take A Chef, holds a high standard for every meal he whips up at Soon Heng, which has a monthly-changing menu.
Serving Western and Asian fusion cuisine conceptualised by Jack himself, the menu usually includes three to six selections of mains, and one option each for appetizer, snack and dessert. Each guest has to choose at least one main.
Roasted Streaky Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin Fillet in Garlic Herb Butter – One of the Mains Served at Soon Heng Social Club.
Limited dining slots despite rising popularity
Their unique concept, coupled with the secretive location, proved to be a hit among residents of KL, and their popularity rose after going viral on social media. Their limited dining slots and space (they can only take up to 20+ guests a night) meant that you might have to make reservations up to a month in advance (yes, even when the latest menu for the month has not been released yet!).
Australian Grain Fed Beef Ribeye Steak (300g) and Mediterranean Lamb Chop – Some of the Mains Served at Soon Heng Social Club. Photo credit: __danaw (Instagram)
While Jack is usually busy in the kitchen, you’ll find Larry at the front of house and the bar area, striking up conversations with guests and making sure everyone is comfortable and enjoying the food.
As a tattoo artist, Larry is also the designer behind Soon Heng’s creative Instagram posts.
Preserving Malaysia’s heritage with artifacts that tell stories of the past
“We already had in mind what we particularly want, so it’s not easy to find those specific items,” Jack said. The brothers travelled all over the country, from Malacca to their hometown in Penang, just to find these items. “We got some of these from our friends, and we also went to look for old kopitiams, to find those [owners] willing to sell their antiques. It took quite some time.”
Some Artifacts Seen at Soon Heng Social Club. Photo credit: christopherhwwong (Instagram)
A chance encounter with this antique collector soon grew into a friendship.
“Even though this uncle was probably around 70 years old, we actually chatted for hours,” Jack shared. Subsequently, the uncle invited both Jack and Larry to his home for tea. “His house was amazing, full of all sorts of antiques you would never have imagined. He was also very hospitable.”
They caught sight of the Soon Heng signage in one of the collector’s rooms and took a keen interest in it.
“This type of signage, with this print, is very rare nowadays,” Jack told us. “And as we were from Penang, where Hokkien is generally spoken, we understood that ‘Soon Heng’ means prosperity and good luck in Hokkien. So it’s very good for business.”
Jack added that although many people had offered the antique collector high prices for the signage in the past, he did not want to sell it, as it held a deep meaning for him after he had obtained it from a retired kopitiam owner in Perak.
“You know, for Chinese [business owners], the signage is the most important thing,” Jack explained. “It’s like the family pride, and usually they won’t want to sell it. But after the kopitiam owner became friends with the [antique collector] uncle, he finally sold it to him.”
Hence, the antique collector only wanted to sell the signage to someone who really understood the meaning behind it, which Jack and Larry did. And because of their friendship, he decided to sell the signage to the brothers.
“After some thought, we decided to preserve the name and beauty of this traditional signage and use it [as our restaurant name]. The words are very meaningful,” Jack said.
Where generations come together
“We have families of three generations coming and the grandfather would be teaching the grandson how to play the tikam tikam and all these games they played in the old days,” Jack recalled fondly. “It’s really heartwarming to see them having fun.”
But like many restaurants, Soon Heng also has its fair share of unreasonable and entitled customers. “Some people thought that Soon Heng is like an atas place, so when they arrive [and realise that it’s more of a casual dining space], they were quite rude,” Jack said, adding that one customer even started asking aggressively why he had to respect the Soon Heng rules of not revealing their location, taking off his shoes and placing his meal orders before arriving. Due to the mismatch in expectations, he eventually decided to leave even though his meal was already prepared.
“We do our best to be accommodating, but we can’t please everyone lah,” he said.
The heart and soul of gathering over a good meal
“We’re planning to expand beyond just the restaurant business and we might move to a new location,” Jack said, but did not want to reveal more details at the moment. “But of course, the concept behind Soon Heng will still remain.”
If You Like the Food, Squeeze the Chicken on the Wall. Photo credit: yeesan_l (Instagram).
I dined at Soon Heng last September, and what I remember isn’t what I ate specifically, but the good conversations over a hearty well-prepared meal, the friendly chatter of fellow guests, the warm hospitality of the owners and hosts, and the warm fuzzy feeling of how everyone was there for a good time.
Soon Heng Social Club is a lot of things, but it also encapsulates one very simple yet profound principle and attitude – doing what you love with your heart and soul.
You can make reservations at Soon Heng Social Club by direct messaging them on their Instagram page.
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