Graham Reid | | 2 min read
As befits a fine-looking establishment named for the first “White Rajah” of the region, the James Brooke Bistro and Cafe occupies a prime location in Kuching, the capital city of Sarawak.
Set back from the popular riverwalk on a well-groomed crop of lawn – with a view to the handsome new parliament building and the old white rajahs' palace on the opposite shore where generations of British Brookes oversaw the region in the colonial era -- the Brooke is a beacon for tourists and locals trying to escape the humidity or a sudden downpour.
On a hot day – and Kuching gets its share of 30-plus degrees here on the northwest coast of Borneo – three of the walls open wide and old-school standing fans add a further and essential cross-breeze. Located near the main international hotels and across from the pocket-sized but interesting Chinese Museum, the Brooke is harder to miss than it is to find.
Of course you pay a little for this degree of convenience and stylish comfort, not the least being an ambient Western-nonsense soundtrack which features things like Kenny G's vacuous treatment of My Heart Will Go On . . . and rather more Sting and low-range Eric Clapton than you might ever want to endure.
Sometimes the service at the Brooke – such as it is – can be extremely leisurely, not to say barely-there. But, when you are restfully beering yourself while watching people outside melting or getting drenched on the pathway by the poo-brown but slow-mo river, you're probably in no hurry to go anywhere anyway.
In part because everything in nearby cafes and eating places is so cheap, the bungalow-styled Brooke is obliged to keep its prices down too. So a large and cold Carlsberg or Tiger beer is a reasonable NZ$3.00, although I did have “three-kind-duck” with rice and an iced tea at a Chinese place within staggering distance for less than the price of a slice of banana cake at the Brooke.
However, to be fair, that downmarket place didn't have a tablecloth and flowers, or even a hygiene certificate, I suspect.
So everything is relative in Sarawak, but a chicken laksa at the Brooke is a mere NZ$3.50 (a bit ordinary though) and a steak dinner if you require one after days of noodles and such less than NZ$14. You can see why some settle in for an hour or so during the day, and slowly pick at the menu while occasionally wandering down to the river to watch overloaded sampans ferry locals across the river for less than NZ20 cents.
Every now and again a few cats wander through the Brooke – Kuching is known as Cat City and there's even a bizarre Cat Museum just 30 minutes north – and these lazy felines often seem in more of a hurry than the staff.
So, aside from its location near the Sarawak River and the easy ambience, you could say there's not a lot to recommend the illustriously named magnet that is the Brooke . . . other than as a place to rest up and consider the view across the top of a welcome beer in the wet heat.
But some days in this part of the planet that's more than enough.
And if you're in attractive and interesting Kuching with its river, proximity to Bako National Park with its proboscis monkeys or the nearby orang-utan enclaves, the safe money says you will – at some time – end up in the Brooke.
Be warned though, although it boasts Asian-cum-Malay elegant décor and well-dressed staff, the James Brooke Bistro and Cafe is cash-only.
So, despite appearances, it's got that in common with my cheap three-kind-duck'n'tea place just down the road.