It’s funny how people’s lives can take very dramatic trajectories. In Datin Hemalatha Ranjithan’s case, she started out as a chemistry lecturer at a local college, but after having her kids, the busy young mother gave up her career to look after her little ones.
On the side, she dabbled in her passion for cakes with online cake business, Sweet Goddess Cakes, which churns out custom-made cakes and cupcakes for weddings and other special occasions.
Last year, she found herself with spare time on her hands when both her kids enrolled in school. And that’s when Hema decided to turn her passion for cakes and cooking into a full-fledged restaurant.
With the help of her husband and other investors, she leapt head-first into the F&B industry with Aroma Village, her first restaurant in Aeon Seri Kembangan, which launched in July last year.
“Basically when I started this place, I wanted to reflect the food that I love eating, which is Malaysian food. I wanted to feature food I know about and that I’m familiar with, instead of opening a Western restaurant, which I know is what most restaurant owners choose these days,” she says.
The restaurant boasts a litany of Malaysian culinary stalwarts, like nonya curry laksa, nasi lemak ayam penyet, roti jala with curry kapitan and Hema’s lamb briyani (the recipe was passed down through the family).
“All my family members are good cooks and I’m very passionate about cooking as well. So some of the recipes here are treasured heirloom ones that are either from me or my relatives,” she says.
Because Hema controls and supervises everything that comes out of the central kitchen (i.e. she tastes every single thing, every single day), quality is assured. The restaurant has also hired chefs with five-star hotel backgrounds, offering them higher salaries to ensure that things are well-taken care of in the kitchen, including important elements like hygiene.
As a result, the food ticks all the right boxes. The nonya curry laksa (RM14.90) is fiery and redolent of the flavours of coconut milk and curry paste (Hema gets the curry paste from artisanal producers in Melaka) and is filled with tofu puffs, prawns and fish balls. It is one of those deeply satisfying curry laksas that is buoyed by a robustly, richly flavoured laksa gravy that is intoxicatingly good.
The nasi lemak ayam penyet (RM16.90) is pretty good, although the sambal is on the sweet side. The ayam penyet in this concoction is a particularly gifted addition, with its crusty skin, juicy meat and layer of spicy sambal on top.
The lamb briyani (RM21.90) comes from Hema’s rich family treasure trove. It has a distinctly Indian taste and features a cornucopia of spices, with lamb that is tender, malleable and full of flavour. “The feedback we’ve gotten from customers is to never, ever change this dish in any way,” says Hema.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things on the menu is the cendol durian (RM9.80). It has all the components of a classic cendol – pandan jelly, palm sugar, coconut milk, crushed ice – with one exception: the cendol also has a giant mound of D24 durian atop it. It’s an ingenious addition as the velvety softness and pungency of the durian melds spectacularly well with the other ingredients. It’s one of those dishes that you eat and think, ‘How come no one else is doing this? It’s so good!’
And the proof is in the pudding, because even though it’s only been just over a year, Aroma Village is doing well enough that it is already expanding rapidly and they are open to franchise opportunities. The second outlet was launched in Nu Sentral at the beginning of this year and the third outlet in IOI City Mall Putrajaya opened in March.
At both the I0I City Mall and Equine Park outlets, diners can enjoy their meals served in a tiffin, in the traditional Peranakan tingkat style.
“We think the demand is there for Malaysian food. Because when we go to the malls, no matter what Western restaurants there are, there will still be shops selling nasi lemak and teh tarik and they’re normally very crowded,” says Hema.
According to Hema, Aroma Village will continue to expand and by the end of 2018, there will be an estimated six outlets in place, if everything goes to plan.
“But no matter where we expand to, the food has to be good, so I always make sure I’m here all the time. The quality of the food is paramount. As a big foodie, I strongly believe that good food speaks for itself,” she says.
Lot LG18, Aeon Equine Park
Tel: 03-9544 5626
Opens daily 10am to 10pm.