Having caught a whiff of a farmer’s lunch club in Tanarimba, Janda Baik, we set off on a whirlwind tour of A Little Farm On The Hill. Post-trip, Samantha Lim finds plenty to rhapsodise about.

The welcome wagon at A Little Farm On The Hill is all wags and whiskers. Three hounds, one black, one white and one brown, sprint in my direction as soon as I disembark my RAV4. Their pendulum-like tails betrayed friendly intentions so I know there is no need for panic. Planting my feet firmly on the ground, I prepare to get the wind knocked out of me, but the trio simply circle me like curious sharks before deciding that nap time is a greater necessity. No longer deemed a curiosity, I am free to nose around the farm. 

Surveying A Little Farm On The Hill as a whole leaves me speechless, but what fills me with unspeakable joy is noticing the minute details: an impassive gecko camouflaged among passionfruit vines, baby beets buried in their soft beds, a towering durian tree that failed to flower this year, and plenty of produce that most millennials recognise on their plates but have never seen on the stem, off the vine or in the earth. My mouth puckers as I meander past a flowering rosella shrub and skin prickles when some unseen amphibian sends sudden ripples across the pond’s surface. While climbing the rose petal-strewn cobblestone path leading to the farmhouse, a thought crosses my mind: “We are in Pahang but might as well have a foot in Paris.”

I am slightly abashed for having expected a rural set-up, for the farm is anything but. Rustic, yes. Elegant, extremely. Then again, its original purpose was to serve as a comfortable retirement home. Lisa Ngan and Pete Teo’s whole set-up fills me with equal parts envy and esteem. Speak of the devil! Pete pulls up a chair to join me on the porch. The actor-filmmaker comes off as reserved at first but when Kopi, the espresso-coloured mutt, lumbers over for a belly rub, the ice is broken. Running a finger down an ugly wound on Kopi’s chest, a battle scar from a rough-and-tumble scuffle with an alpha male monkey, Pete explains the vital role the dogs play in keeping predators and pests at bay. Other details emerge over the course of our banter: that 10 people keep the whole show running, of plans to roll out guest lodgings in the near future, and that the temptation to rear chickens and goats is thwarted by the risk of attracting more snakes.

Many guests bring their kids up here. If one of them got eaten by a python that would be really bad PR,” says Pete, only half-jokingly.

Lisa pokes her head out of the kitchen, putting a temporary halt to our tête-à-tête. She beckons for me to have a peek at meal prep. Pete too, has his part to play, and scurries over to the smokehouse.

Curt nods from white-smocked chefs greet me in the kitchen, a spanking clean room that corresponds with the well-kempt farm. Neatly written menus are pinned to a corkboard and freshly-picked produce destined for a delicious future is laid out in an organised fashion. A gargantuan bowlful of greens piques my interest. “What’s in here?” is met with an enthusiastic chorus: Purslane, ketumpang air, wood sorrel, pegaga, nasturtium, watercress, parsley, ulam raja, wild ginseng, coriander, parsley, dill, baby choysum, baby bakchoy, selom... It’s today’s 12 leaf salad.” Hang on, that’s plenty more than a dozen greens, I protest.

There are usually more but 12 has a nice ring to it,” admits Lisa. “Feel free to taste.” So I do, and have my impressions of supermarket greens forever blighted. Like tannins on the tongue, the flavours of farm fresh, unadulterated greens tend to linger. The initiation summons up the memory of my baptismal sip of Milo ‘kau’ after years of drinking my mum’s diluted version.

The crunch of gravel announces the arrival of visitors, so I withdraw from the kitchen to allow the staff to hasten. Soon I am part of a growing number of guests standing around in cliques, sipping on lemongrass coolers and nibbling rosemary-spiced nuts. It all feels very debonair. The clock ticks one in the afternoon—it’s time to break bread, though not literally, since the homemade focaccia was thoughtfully pre-sliced into tranches. Once the tables are laid and everyone has hastened into their seats, it becomes apparent where A Little Farm On The Hill’s true charm lies.

Some 11 dishes move along a conveyer belt of hands—unusual for Asia, where dining largely revolves around round tables and a spin of the Lazy Susan eliminates the need for vocal interaction. Here fellow diners literally rub elbows at long communal tables while tucking into rustic roast chicken pimped with dates, olives and capers, meaty, melt-in-your-mouth pumpkin, and a cooling yogurt, cucumber, mint and rose dip that could easily double as a homemade facial. Not everything gets my pulse racing, but the beef ribs, oh my, the beef ribs...

These are the beef ribs against which all others must be judged.

Hand-rubbed with little more than salt and pepper, smoked for six hours over oak, and erupting spirals of steam as you plunge your fork into their gritty, burnished exterior.

Before we know it, the meal is over and we’re left blinking at one another. Coffee, tea and cake—a lighter derivation of true Mexican très leches—takes its time to roll out, spurring further conversation among strangers. I have the pleasure of meeting the motley crew of KL24: Zombie, a locally-produced independent film, and am abashed but flattered when a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed fresh grad asks for journalism advice. Children chase each other around and under the tables, while I spot a naughty grandma pick and pocket a handful of flowers in the garden. The weather couldn’t be more perfect.

I had wanted so much to be wowed and I was; but not in the way I’d imagined. As it turns out, brunch is but a fraction of the entire experience. Seeming to take a page from Maya Angelou, A Little Farm On The Hill evokes one of the poet and prominent hostess’s citations: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did; they will remember how you made them feel.”

Originally published in the November 2017 issue of Tatler Malaysia.