If you're all about taking pretty photos for your Instagram feed, get your phones ready and head to KL's most photogenic, highly stylised cafés. From raw, rustic designs in heritage shophouses to clean, minimalist interiors, these places are perfect for all your #cafehop posts.
The best Instagram-worthy cafés in Kuala Lumpur
The best-looking cafés in town for your #instacafe posts
If you’ve always wondered what the Danish word ‘hygge’ means, you’ll get a sense of it at this cool new coffee shop which bills itself as ‘a little Scandinavia in Mont Kiara’. ‘Hygge’ is one of Oxford’s shortlisted words of 2016; it’s hard to pronounce (try ‘hooga’) and even harder to explain, but it roughly refers to a way of life that’s about simplicity, unwinding and slowing down to enjoy life.
As with anything Scandinavian, you can expect a clean, minimal space – unfussed and uncluttered – with sunlight streaming in, and cosy corners filled with couches and (modern) Nordic print throw pillows. There’s an air of peace and easiness here that make for a quiet respite from the city; this is a space made for lingering.
The menu is small at the moment, limited to pastries, scrambled eggs and sandwiches (there are plans to expand soon). For drinks, there’s your standard espresso-based coffee (with beans from local roaster Sprezzatura), matcha latte and Gryphon tea – all served in blue and white patterned Royal Copenhagen cups and mugs, which are a thing of beauty. A new outlet has been opened in KL Eco City if that is nearer to you.
The long stretch that is Petaling Street can get real touristy at times, so if you need to take cover, walk a bit further down the road and head to Merchant’s Lane. Joining The Front Door and Einstein Café, Merchant’s Lane is a cool addition to the Chinatown café scene. This calm little hideaway is located above an old shop next to the Advance Tertiary College building. No main signage is up yet for now but don’t worry, there’s a small sign leading up to the place that’s not too hard to find. Fun fact: Before it was abandoned more than five years ago, the space was a brothel.
Inside, the café uses a teal and pink colour scheme on their counter and display cases – a nice pop of colour from everything else in the shop that sports a rustic look. However, it’s the outdoor area that really shines with the building’s original design. Co-owner Kenneth Tan explains that they’ve tried conserving the outdoor components as well, like the window and railings, but some things couldn’t be preserved due to old age. Most of the furniture is custom-made, including some of the benches which were fashioned out of old wooden staircases.
Kenneth and another partner were previously with Butter + Beans, but having their own café was always in the pipeline. The menu will see some changes in the coming months, but items so far include breakfast and Asian-inspired comfort food. For example, the aglio olio is served with an option of prawns or chicken rendang; and the Cantonese-style Hongkie Beef Stew is slow-cooked for 12 hours. They also have their own house-made caramel and potato hash. For drinks, they serve the basics like coffee, tea and some juices, with interesting choices like the jasmine black coffee and the rose honey milk.
In the place you’d expect to find kakigōri (a Japanese sweet dessert with shaved ice), you’ll find Kakiyuki. Having rebranded and then having expanded their menu, you’re still in for an icy Instagrammable treat. The same signature blue colour will greet you at each of their outlets and their desserts just scream to be photographed. They serve 10 types of kakigōri along with wagashi (traditional Japanese desserts) like daifuku, ice cream sandwiches, mochi, anmitsu (a summer dessert with jelly and red bean paste) and zenzai (red bean soup with mochi). If you’re up for more westernised desserts, they’ve got a yōgashi (patisserie) section where you can opt between custard puddings or rolled cakes. Should you want to try an assortment but your spare tummy for dessert cannot accommodate a la carte-sized portions, you could choose to have a set.
While it’s easy to mourn the gentrification of Petaling Street and the proliferation of ‘hipster’ cafés in Old KL, we’re glad to see Chocha Foodstore setting up shop in the abandoned Mah Lian Hotel. Meaning ‘sit and drink tea’ in the Hakka dialect, Chocha is a space where you can do just that – sit down with friends over a pot of specialty tea or two. It’s also a tribute of sorts to the Malaysian yum cha culture.
Located a couple of doors away from Merchant’s Lane and PS150, Chocha Foodstore is one of the most visually stunning cafés we’ve seen this year: classic pastel tiles galore which vary from room to room, a sun-drenched central courtyard lined with potted herbs, clusters of vintage glass lamps dangling over a long wooden tables in a corner. Architect and owner Shin Chang of MentahMatter Design (the second floor of the building houses the office and a co-working area) has transformed the space while keeping the structure (raw concrete walls and all) intact. Fun fact: the colourful tiles and grilles at Chocha are all original fittings from Mah Lian Hotel. According to Shin Chang, they hope this project of theirs will set an example and help in the effort to stop unnecessary demolition of old buildings in KL. Hear, hear.
As a tribute to Chinatown, the two-page menu (by Shin Chang’s partners Penny Ng and Youn Chang) is dedicated to Malaysian-inspired dishes with local ingredients. There’s kerabu mango slaw, there’s cincalok fried chicken, there’s charred eggplant belado. We say skip the ulam stew barley rice and go for the Chinese pesto flat noodles – satisfyingly chewy handmade noodles with ulam pesto, semi-dried tomatoes and crushed peanuts. For the sweet stuff, ulam raja crème brûlée – a creamy concoction of ulam raja and Thai basil, topped with honeycomb for crunch.
However, the real star of the menu (and the reason you should come here) is the tea – with varieties ranging from black to dark, oolong to scented tea. Rotated seasonally, the tea menu comes with blurbs on the tea’s processing methods, its history and taste notes. Teas such as raw pu-er, aged Fujian shui hsien and lapsang souchong (some sourced from HOJO, some coming from the owner’s personal collection) make an appearance, served in gorgeous teaware with a tiny platter of roasted chestnuts on the side. Apart from hot tea, Chocha also has cold brew teas, currently available in three versions – dong ding oolong, sencha and gold rush, a scented tea blend from HOJO. The sole beer (Stella Artois) available almost seems like an afterthought.
For now, only the ground floor is open to the public, but exciting things are ahead: there will be a coffee bar, a bike workshop, a small design bookstore, wine bar, all targeted to launch in October.
By a congested corner of Jalan Sultan (opposite distinguished tailors Kwong Fook Wing) lies the newest café this side of KL – Leaf & Co. Formerly a mess hall built by Kwong Yik Bank’s co-founder Cheong Yoke Choy, the century-old colonial-era heritage building is now a boutique hostel (by the name of Mingle) and café, co-founded by engineer Ng Sin Leong. With Ng’s experience in restoring and refurbishing old buildings, it’s evident that attention and care were paid to this particular building as well – old wooden beams are reinforced, pieces of original furniture from the building’s early days are scattered around, and the terrazzo tiles are cleaned and spruced up. In the café, an air well in the centre lets in light for the small garden of potted herbs. At the back, a rooftop bar is still under construction.
The straightforward menu at Leaf & Co mostly consists of variations of chicken dishes (creamy butter cream chicken, nasi lemak curry chicken, lemongrass chicken) as well as salads, pastas, sandwiches and beef stew. As for coffee, there’s the usual selection, but with the addition of interesting adaptations like rose latte and coconut latte; the Americano here comes in old-school kopitiam cups, a clever reference to its location in the heart of old KL. Check it out for the interesting architecture, but bear in mind that the kitchen needs a bit of time to find its footing.
After Pulp, APW adds another café to its premises, and it’s a very handsome one. Already attracting brunch hunters and Instagrammers in droves, Breakfast Thieves (yes, it’s the sister of the one based in an old chocolate factory in Fitzroy, Melbourne) is a stunner: a glasshouse-like space with lots of pale wood, white tiles, pastel railings and concrete, punctuated by the occasional plant and exposed light bulb.
Founded by a team of Malaysians (Brandon Chin, Kevin Foo and Edwin Koh), KL’s Breakfast Thieves features a minimal brunch menu of modern Australian dishes with Asian influences – think homemade granola, cereal-crusted brioche for French toast; tea hot smoked salmon with guacamole; Croque Madame; and even eggs Benedict is given an upgrade with BBQ pulled beef, pico de gallo and brown butter hollandaise. They’ve even got funky-named dishes like Donald. T which features shredded duck confit, smoked duck breast with chilli-onion jam and pickled purple cabbage mozzarella; Admiral Cheng-Ho that showcases a ‘not your usual aglio olio spaghetti’, homemade kum heong clams and crisp school prawns. If that doesn’t pique your curiosity while sending your salivary glands into overdrive, check out their other options.
Rounding out the deal is a simple coffee menu (sorry, no filtered coffee for now) with the usual latte, double espresso and cappuccino. But the Magic is the one you have to try: it’s a double ristretto topped with steamed milk.
One of KL's most good-looking cafés is perched on Jalan Galloway, a curiously unusual option for a contemporary coffee spot. The café is remodelled from a building on-site, while much of its original charm and old-world feel is retained. On the ground floor is a dim, narrow seating area where coffee machines whiz, baristas chatter and tempting cakes parade Climb up the steep stairs to the first floor for an airy, breezy, rattan-chaired setup. Satisfy your hunger pangs with dishes like Turkish style eggs, surf N turf, Scandinavian breakfast, VCR house salad, quiche and more. Complete your meal with desserts like lime coconut bar, banana toffee loaf, the naked king (a three-layer banana cake with dark chocolate ganache), and cheesecakes. Coffee wise, the folks here don't believe in house blends. Instead, single origins rotate fortnightly, save for the Valrhona hot chocolate that retains a permanent slot on the menu.
For all its popularity (400 million active users at time of print), Instagram has a bad rep among food purists. We hear of acclaimed restaurants banning phone photography, citing bad manners, infringement of intellectual property and disturbance of other diners’ experience. No surprises there.