Have you got a sudden craving for a thick and juicy steak? Well, you need to look no further than Maria’s SteakCafe, especially if you are in Kuala Lumpur or Ipoh. Ong Chin Huat gets a taster of what many consider the best steakhouse in Kuala Lumpur at a recent spirits pairing dinner.
Known for its succulent steaks, Maria SteakCafe is a Malaysian homegrown restaurant which started in the town of Ipoh back in 1999. Its founders, Maria Tan and her late husband Philip, shared a passion for cooking and a reputation for hosting exceptional house parties.
As the President of the Ladies Hour Club, Maria dedicated her baking skills to raising funds for orphanages and nursing homes for the elderly.
Following the Asian financial crisis of 1997, Philip’s business suffered greatly, which prompted the couple to start a home-based business, selling their renowned dishes to friends and the public.
Today, the restaurant chain has expanded to five outlets, with their middle daughter Angeline Tan at its helm. As an Asean scholar who studied Actuarial Science at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Angeline has also completed a Basic Cuisine Certificate at Le Cordon Bleu.
She speaks with Luxurious Magazine about the challenges she faces in her business post-pandemic and the recent wine and spirits pairing dinner her restaurant has organised.
Luxurious Magazine: Tell us why you decided to leave your profession as an actuarial executive and work for Maria’s SteakCafe.
Angeline Tan: Being born into a food-loving family, I’ve always been invested in the food and beverage scene and have always dreamt of taking over the business since I was young.
The perfect opportunity came when my sister wanted to move on to another business, leaving the position vacant. I immediately volunteered to take over Maria’s.
LM: Why did Maria’s SteakCafe initially decide to specialise in meats and steaks?
Angeline: From the early stages, we’ve always been known for our pies and pastries. Then, we expanded to a variety of Western food. However, when I spoke to our customers, I realised that many travel from near and far, especially for our steaks.
It struck me that even though all our food was good (I may be biased), our steaks were exceptional. Then, I brought in more variety of steaks and began focusing on it.
LM: Is working for the family business different from working for someone else? If yes, how so?
Angeline: It is definitely very different working for the family business. When working for and with your family, you are fully invested. If the company fails, the family is affected, not only financially but also emotionally.
The pressure to succeed is immense. There are no holidays, no off days, and no 9-5 days until the business stabilises. However, the payoff is well worth it – to be able to expand my parent’s legacy and watch “simply good food” enjoyed by more people.
LM: What are the biggest challenges in running Maria’s SteakCafe post-pandemic?
Angeline: I think the revenge spending and the sudden boom post-pandemic have created a space for many new F&B outlets to open. Therefore, the biggest challenge is to sustain ourselves in this competitive market – constantly finding new ways to provide our loyal and new customers with a memorable experience.
We’re always looking to improve ourselves so we can better serve our customers.
LM: Having completed a cuisine course at Le Cordon Bleu, do you have a big input with the creation of the dishes and menu at Maria’s SteakCafe?
Angeline: To begin with, we rarely modify the dishes created by my parents. After all, it is their recipes that our regular customers love. With the extra knowledge, I can understand why they do what they do.
For our new creations, we have a very competent chef, trained in a Michelin restaurant in Germany, who creates them. Yes, I do have a big input in assisting him in creating these new dishes.
LM: Do you seek your parents’ advice when you encounter roadblocks in running the business?
Angeline: There is a Chinese saying that says, “They (our parents) have eaten salt more than we have eaten rice.” So, yes! I will definitely get my mum’s advice when I encounter roadblocks, especially in the area of cooking and maintaining food consistency.
She has so much experience and has experimented with so many different ways to ensure that the food served to every customer always exceeds expectations. Consulting her helps me solve problems faster.
LM: What’s the best advice your parents have given you?
Angeline: The heart of the business is putting a smile on our customers’ faces, making Maria’s their favourite place time & time again. It has been our mission since the beginning of time – to give our customers the best food and the best service possible.
LM: What do you think makes a great restaurant?
Angeline: Just like the best advice my parents gave – putting a smile on your customer’s face, every restaurant has its own uniqueness. The most important thing is the beautiful memories shared among family and friends when having a great time – and in Malaysia, this often comes with good food!
LM: Tell us about the recent wine-pairing dinner you organised recently with the Spanish Winery La Rioja Alta.
Angeline: It was truly a privilege to host the wine dinner with Mr Guillermo, the 6th generation family member of the Spanish wine group. His knowledge of wines elevated the experience of the diners. What is more, their wines were very well-balanced and delectable.
The powerful wines really paired perfectly with our steaks. It was one of our first internally organised wine-pairing dinners, and I must say it was a success, as everyone had a good time.
LM: Do you plan to do more collaborations with other wine or spirit houses?
Angeline: Yes, we do have a few upcoming collaborations with other wine/spirit houses. We will host another pairing event with Wholly Spirits on 20th October at our 1 POWERHOUSE outlet (above). This time, we will be pairing spirits with our food.
LM: Which is the best-selling dish in Maria’s Steakcafe, and why do you think it is so popular?
Angeline: The best-seller would be our steaks. Our steaks are cooked to perfection – tender and juicy on the inside with a crust on the outside. Together with our signature dry rub, every bite gives you an explosion of flavour and texture. Our latest upgrade to the flavour will be our sizzling steaks.
It has an addition of brown butter that further elevates the taste. Besides it being delicious, it’s also a feast for the senses as you can still see it sizzling and releasing an amazing aroma when it is being served.
LM: How often do you change the menu at Maria’s SteakCafe?
Angeline: Our core menu never changes. These are dishes that our regular customers love, such as our steaks, soups, lamb cutlets, and traditional cakes. However, we’re constantly developing new recipes. When we get the right one that hits the spot, we launch it. There is no timeline per se.
For further information on Maria’s SteakCafe, please visit www.marias.com.my.
You can read more exclusive interviews and profiles in our dedicated section here.