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The 20 best dishes in KL

These classic and experimental eats are the best things we’ve eaten in 2013

 (Photo: Amir Rashid)
1/20
Photo: Amir Rashid

Bouillabaisse, RM92

This age-old Provencal favourite has charmed many a bistro menus in town, but none compare to the version at Maison Française. Good bouillabaisse is measured by the complexity of its broth and this one is packed just right with rosemary, thyme, fennel, star anise, coriander seeds and a liberal dose of saffron before being boiled down for over an hour. White clams, black mussels, red snapper and prawns are then added to the broth to form a light, sweet soup. The fish flakes with a gentle nudge, the mussels are creamy, and the prawns plump – it’s French summer in a bowl.

 (Photo: Amir Rashid)
2/20
Photo: Amir Rashid

Grilled ‘bacon’ wrapped snails, RM25

Banish thoughts of slime and pretentious forks. The chefs at Acme have brought snails out of the ’80s and into the present, in a rustic, flavour-packed appetiser. In this composition, the snails are wrapped in thick slices of housemade duck bacon and sit on a fresh, piquant parsley sauce. The molluscs are an excellent flavour receptacle, absorbing the aroma of the garlic, the gamey savouriness of the duck, and the bright, grassy parsley sauce.

 (Photo: Amir Rashid)
3/20
Photo: Amir Rashid

Pineapple, RM25

Don’t let this dessert’s vague moniker fool you – brilliance and a touch of lunacy on Chef Keith Choong’s part are apparent in this three-element dish. The ‘carpaccio’ sees sliced pineapple marinated in sugar and passion fruit before assembled next to a clear, spice-infused jelly that permeates scents of clove, black pepper, cinnamon and fennel. The binding element comes in the form of creamy housemade coconut ice cream, brought to life with shavings of lime zest. Slippery, smooth and frankly mad, this dessert bumps Hit & Mrs further up the list of KL’s most promising restaurants.

 (Photo:  KC Chen/Image Rom Studio)
4/20
Photo: KC Chen/Image Rom Studio

Gravlax platter, RM28

The Nordic specialty, gravlax, is severely underrepresented in cafés – a peculiar fact considering its seemingly fuss-free procedure and infinite breakfast topping possibilities. Salmon is cured in a bed of salt, sugar and herbs for three days and sliced into thin rashers before arranged atop bread, eggs and such. Nutmeg is one of the rare outlets in KL offering housemade gravlax and theirs is creatively cured in ingredients such as paprika, beetroot and lemongrass before rosemary oil is carefully drizzled over. Make sure to get a bit of lemon zest and raw onion on your fork for a fragrantly oily, zingy snack.

 (Photo: Amir Rashid)
5/20
Photo: Amir Rashid

Bak kut teh xiau long bau, RM8.80

The humble xiau long bau has seen so many reinventions. Blanketed with sliced truffles, dyed pink, stuffed with crab – chefs just won’t let the dumpling rest in peace. But this bak kut teh number is something different – unique but accessible, and definitely worthy of including on your regular dim sum rotation. The skin is a little thicker than the average xiau long bau, but you’ll understand why when you take a bite – the broth is not a delicate, subtle one. This is rich and layered in flavour, surrounding tender meat steeped in spices. A small splash of vinegar and ginger cut through the richness, and a tiny wolfberry on top lends sweetness to the mouthful.

 (Photo: Amir Rashid)
6/20
Photo: Amir Rashid

Mediterranean black rice with langoustine, RM45

The menu at one of the city’s best 2013 openings is a mini anthology of avant-garde tapas. Our favourite entry here is the black rice, stained with squid ink and dramatically topped with two langoustines. Talented Spaniard and head chef Toni Valero boils down lobster heads all afternoon to produce a rich, briny stock to cook the rice in; the stock is the most important element in imbuing flavour into the rice. Toni then par-cooks the rice over the stove before finishing it off in a Josper oven for a crusty char and a silky middle. The overall effect is excessively, wonderfully salty, like taking a mouthful of seasoned ocean water. Wash the ink stains off your teeth with a crisp Casal Caeiro sauvignon blanc.

 (Photo: Amir Rashid)
7/20
Photo: Amir Rashid

Banana, pineapple and coconut crumble served with caramelised banana ice cream, RM18

To be fair, we swapped the original soft serve for the caramelised banana ice cream, and the final combo is impossible to keep your heart (and stomach) still. The ice cream, embedded with caramel bits, is an exercise in decadence. If chocolate is our first love, caramel is the temptress that hooks us deep – you’ll catch the burnt sugar at the point of perfection in the ice cream and on the fruit. The pineapple chunks and desiccated coconut add texture – not so much flavour – to the banana filling here, which gives you something to concentrate on instead of eating it in repeating spoonfuls. This dessert is sticky warm, not cloying, and buttery with a crisp top – these are the hallmarks of a perfect crumble.

 (Photo:  KC Chen/Image Rom Studio)
8/20
Photo: KC Chen/Image Rom Studio

Spicy mutton, RM15

Don’t let this dimly lit ’70s neighbourhood pub’s name fool you. While the hearty oxtail stew here goes extremely well with a chilled pint of Guinness and a side of garlic bread, we think it’s the spicy mutton at Rennie’s that outshines the rest of the menu. The fiery, addictive varuval curry complements the tender chunks of mutton to a tee, and paired with a basket of warm, crunchy garlic bread, the dish is elevated beyond the status of a simple bar snack. With over four decades of regulars swearing by this home-style Indian culinary favourite, Rennie’s mutton varuval deserves recognition for its sheer consistency.

 (Photo: Amir Rashid)
9/20
Photo: Amir Rashid

Mimolette cheese soufflé with raisin and pine nut salad, RM28

As far as cheese soufflés are concerned, rich and creamy is the way to go. This one is both, but manages to preserve an airy, soft middle. Mimolette is the choice of cheese, a neon orange French cow’s milk variety with a hard, greyish crust and a distinct cheddar taste. The aroma and hardness of the cheese’s rind is the famous source of live cheese mites during the ageing process, rendering Mimolette imports to be screened in the US due to hygiene concerns. Don’t worry, you won’t get bug in your teeth with this delicately cooked soufflé but eat it as soon as it hits the table for a desirable cloud effect.

 (Photo: Amir Rashid)
10/20
Photo: Amir Rashid

Ikan bakar, from RM5 per piece

You’re either a huge fan of ikan bakar or you’re not too crazy about it. If you belong to the latter group, the ikan bakar at Kedai Kak Jat exists to change your mind about grilled fish (it certainly did for one of our writers). Maybe it’s the freshness of the fish, the spicy marinade or the precision with which they’re grilled to create a charred, crispy exterior while the flesh remains moist and flaky; whatever it is, this is the ikan bakar worthy of going the extra mile for (in this case, going up Bukit Petaling at lunch time). To up the experience, have your ikan with the stall’s equally famous air asam dipping sauce.

 (Photo: Amir Rashid)
11/20
Photo: Amir Rashid

Queso de Cabra Crujiente (Oven baked goat’s cheese in light filo pastry), RM20

This seemingly simple dish demonstrates an expert combination of flavours and palate sensations. The rich, salty goat’s cheese is encased in a thin, crispy layer of filo pastry and oven baked until melting and unctuous. It reaches that magical state that only cheese can achieve, somewhere between solid and liquid. Layer a smear of caramelised shallots and a slick of pumpkin jam over a mouthful for a sweet counterpoint to the saltiness, and revel in a perfect moment.

 (Photo:  KC Chen/Image Rom Studio)
12/20
Photo: KC Chen/Image Rom Studio

Orange curd cake, RM12 per slice

It’s certainly a challenge to find orange cake done right around these parts. Lids & Finch comes closest to perfecting this teatime childhood treat and hits a homerun with a zesty iteration that ticks all the right boxes. The recently opened café’s moist orange curd cake, featuring thin layers of tangy homemade orange curd, is crafted using fresh orange juice and topped with a rich (but not too cloying) cream cheese icing. Although the nutty pistachio cake here also comes highly recommended, the orange takes the cake.

 (Photo: Amir Rashid)
13/20
Photo: Amir Rashid

Maple cinnamon almond spread, RM28

Run-of-the-mill peanut butter spreads should hang their heads in shame – local outfit Nuts Enough’s collection of uniquely flavoured nut spreads is the bee’s knees. Our pick of the bunch is the irresistible maple cinnamon almond spread, where subtle traces of maple syrup and cinnamon add pizzazz to the gently sweetened almond spread. It also boasts incredible consistency and a luscious, gooey texture. We’ve tried the versatile spread on toast, tortilla chips, chocolate bars and biscuits, but nothing quite matches the sheer satisfaction of scooping a spoonful straight from the jar.

Nuts Enough spreads are available at Village Grocer outlets in Bangsar Village, 1 Mont Kiara and Sunway Giza.

 (Photo: Amir Rashid)
14/20
Photo: Amir Rashid

Maguro Zukushi, RM78

Assorted tuna sushi on a platter sounds standard but Sushi Hinata’s version knocks it out of the park for its execution and sheer freshness. Japanese wonder Chef Hideaki Oritsuki slices tuna with captivating precision before patting the cuts onto vinegary rice. The tuna ranges in fattiness but we like the otoro best, the most premium of the tuna belly. Pleasurably buttery and melt-in-the-mouth, each cut disintegrates on the tongue with little effort – the stuff dreams are made of. On the side are tasty hosomaki rolls with chopped tuna and leek (stick around the counter to marvel at Chef Hideaki’s showy knife skills).

 (Photo: Amir Rashid)
15/20
Photo: Amir Rashid

Suckling pig with liver sausage, RM380++

The play-it-safe classic suckling pig has gone through a clever revival at Noble Mansion. Here the transcendent Chinese New Year staple is combined with the nostalgic dish, gam chin yuk (pork loin shaped like gold coins), resulting in a hog’s worth of individually portioned mashed liver sausage wrapped in slabs of pork belly. Each piece is topped with crackly suckling pig skin, lacquered with a calibrated blend of ingredients: char siew sauce, siu heng wine and sugar. When the liver, pork belly and skin meet, the result is smoky pork that leaves a film of grease as well as a smile on your lips.

 (Photo: Amir Rashid)
16/20
Photo: Amir Rashid

Grilled Panela cheese with pork crackling, RM58

Grilled cheese and fried pork skin are some of life’s best companions. This brilliant starter marries both but the one wearing the pants is seared Panela cheese, a Mexican cheese sharing a resemblance with and a similar preparation process to paneer. Chef Carmela first pasteurises fresh whole milk on a gentle heat for about an hour before the ‘skin’ is drained and pressed into small baskets. The cheese then takes the shape of the baskets before being grilled and served with fresh pots of guacamole (possibly the best in town) and crispy pork crackling. Cut a small slice of the mild cheese, place it atop a piece of curly crackling and spoon guacamole on top for a dangerously addictive snack.

 (Photo: Amir Rashid)
17/20
Photo: Amir Rashid

Roasted bone marrow with caramelised onions and toasted brioche, RM28

The act of slurping bone marrow at a dinner table seems badly mannered except when you’re presented with this dish. The (beef) bone marrow is blackened in the oven, which renders the filling into a melting, jelly-like gloop. Don’t go eating this on its own – the gelatinous marrow is luxuriously rich but too cloying to eat alone. Spread some on a square of crispy brioche together with a load of sweetened onions for a fatty, sweet, abundantly indulgent appetiser. The sprig of thyme provides a whiff of herby perfume.

 (Photo:  KC Chen/Image Rom Studio)
18/20
Photo: KC Chen/Image Rom Studio

Foie gras sate, RM95

This satay is KL’s most unconventional – nothing of the sweaty, smoky Malaysian sort. Two fat blocks of goose liver are charred on a griddle and speared on a stick of crunchy pasta noodle, placed alongside a swipe of thick peanut paste, candied cucumber and pickled sweet-sour onion. Elements of Malaysia’s ubiquitous street snack are present beneath the madness and the flavours are more familiar than you’d think. The liver is exceedingly melting, the paste much like hand-churned crunchy peanut butter while the cucumber and onion help to counter the decadence. Dip the lot into a scattering of pandan-scented Rice Krispies for the cleverest, most eccentric mouthful of food you’ll eat this year.

 (Photo: Amir Rashid)
19/20
Photo: Amir Rashid

Pandan crepe with banana and gula Melaka, coconut sorbet, RM26

Malaysian flavours bloom in Soleil’s much-heralded dessert. Thin pandan-infused crepes are filled with coins of caramelised bananas coated in thick gula Melaka syrup, and then bound with a vanilla pod into an adorable pouch. Use a fork to slice through the crepe, let the sticky bananas ooze out and scoop a dent in the housemade coconut ice cream. This dessert doesn’t scream with originality but no matter – it’s old-fashioned after-dinner sugar that’s executed to pitch perfection.

 (Photo: Amir Rashid)
20/20
Photo: Amir Rashid

Tau fu pok, RM25 for ten

If you’ve tired of the more predictable variations of tau fu pok, the Guangxi-inspired version at Eight Treasure will erase all bland experiences. It’s a dish made vivid again after years of being just ordinary – pork bits (both lean and fatty) are melded with fish paste and chopped kuchai leaves before jamming them into hollow fried beancurds. After cooking them to a boil, a ladle of briny broth – specked with a flurry of spring onions – is poured over these bobbing gems. The dish’s simple flavours draw on childhood experiences, a homey feeling if you will, but the execution is what you’d expect of a polished downtown restaurant. Just order ten and call it a day.

Eat these here

Maison Française

Only a five minute drive from the city centre, the dreamy French settings of Maison Française will make you feel miles away from town. Residence turned restaurant, Maison is fitted with elegant chandeliers, black table settings and glimmering glassware, all which create a modern European feel. The menu is purely French with dishes like foie gras terrine with onion and apple chutney, roasted snails in red wine sauce with fried onion rings and sauteed dover sole with meuniere sauce. Naturally, the Le Mont-Blanc and crêpe Suzette grace the dessert menu. Degustation menus of varying prices are available for those who would like friendly introductions to French cuisine. For more, see feature.

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KL City Centre

Hit & Mrs

Hit & Mrs is an attractive nook in Bangsar focusing on experimental European cuisine. Helmed by Chef Keith Choong, he deconstructs classic dishes to create modern interpretations of French and Italian classics. The nostalgia-themed bar upstairs is reminiscent of old houses complete with rattan chairs, frosted panes and peeling cabinets.

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KL City Centre

Nutmeg

Bangsar’s new family business invokes a warm cosiness that’s best suited with café-style breakfast meals. In place of bacon is an abundance of gravlax, raw salmon cured in salt and sugar that comes in three flavours: mustard, beetroot and lemongrass, and smoked paprika. The slices are stuffed into croissants in the mornings and served alongside fried potatoes and sour cream at dinnertime. Also a special is salted beef that’s cured for ten days and thickly layered in the Reuben sandwich.

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Bangsar
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Ohla Tapas & Cocktails

Recommended

May 2014 Every now and again, a new restaurant swoops in to shake up the fine dining scene, pulling in camera-slinging spectators and an onslaught of blog reviews. Three months later, attention diverts and all parties reposition themselves back to the start line. In one swift, unforeseen move, the smack-bang arrival of Ohla Tapas & Cocktails has changed it all. Before its opening about eight months ago, KL had never seen a young chef as masterly, as passionate and as present as Ohla’s Toni Valero. Formerly of El Celler de Can Roca and Mugaritz – taking first and fourth place respectively on San Pellegrino’s 2013 world’s best restaurants list – Toni is single-handedly shifting the course of Spanish cuisine in KL. Executing fine-dining techniques minus snooty waiters and sparkly glassware, Ohla revolutionises in KL the much-needed concept of fine, perfectly executed food in an accessible setting. It doesn’t aim to be a scene-stealing behemoth, but instead appeals to the tapas-loving everyman. As Ohla is shaped into a long bar facing the cooking station, Toni encourages diners to sit across from him to chat as he whizzes puree, shovels pans in ovens and garnishes alfalfa sprouts onto dainty meats. All three of my visits to Ohla have been enhanced by this culture of casual chitchat; whether Toni gushes about importing river prawns from the Mediterranean Sea or demonstrates the nuances of a sous vide machine, he speaks with a somewhat naïve childlike joy that reels you in. Thou

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KL City Centre

Rennie’s House of Oxtail

Most head to Jalan Gasing to tuck into chicken rice or banana leaf, but we found ourselves at a cosy little bar on a Wednesday night, in what felt like a sudden time warp. Rennie’s House of Ox-tail, a landmark to PJites and those from the suburb’s surrounds, looks like it hasn’t changed since day one. A glance at its aged carpet and the padded bar will confirm this, but we checked with its owner just to be sure. (Nope, not one thing, she said.) You won’t miss the spot, anyhow. On the same row as Kanna Curry House, Rennie’s is fronted by a mock Tudor façade, with darkened windows that shroud the time capsule within. The bar area is what greets you first, and it’s intimate, cosy, and at full capacity, would probably require an ample amount of squeezing around. There’s a dining area at the back, too, if you’re after a meal. And do dine-in once. After all, they don’t call this the House of Ox-tail for nothing, and their eponymous dish – a generously portioned oxtail stew – is comforting and, quite possibly, life-altering. You got dumped? Order this magic brew. Just lost your job? The stew will get you back on your feet. A pint or two may also have the same effect. If you’re after draught, it’s Tiger and Guinness on tap, and they have all the usual liquors and spirits, too. Just don’t go asking for a drinks menu. There isn’t one here, but they do have a collection of witty signs and old posters behind the bar, which they’ve amassed over the years. Here’s one simian saying that

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Taman Jaya

Graze

March 2014 Graze is very different from its previous incarnation, Senses. Its wood-accented interior is now cosier and more casual, less intimidating. The menu, a one-page fitting in everything from appetisers and soup to rice, pasta, main course, cuts of meat, side dishes and desserts, is very easy to understand. Graze’s new modern European concept could have a wider appeal, but in this case, with a predecessor as illustrious as Senses, it becomes a double-edge sword. When Hilton KL opened in the mid 2000s, its restaurants were the hottest thing in town. Senses was the main attraction, and through the years its food direction has seen multiple reinventions, from the experimentations with molecular techniques to a seasonal produce-driven modern Australian menu. Graze is simple and hearty, no doubt a testament to the kitchen’s fine skills in cooking and execution, but compared to Senses’s more risk-taking ventures, it feels a little uninspired. My dinner companion had the minestrone soup to start while I chose the more interesting grilled quail with warm apricot salad. The soup was flavourful, packed with cubed vegetables (as it should be), ultimately very satisfying. My quail was well cooked: The meat was tender, well seasoned, and the crackling of salt and pepper on the skin provided a delightful burst of flavour. The sweetness of the soft apricot paired well with the nuttiness of the arugula. It could have been perfect if not for the heavy-handed use of oil dressing. My

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KL Sentral
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Cantaloupe

Superstar chef Chris Bauer - who was once responsible for the brilliance of Frangipani - heads the French restaurant within Troika Sky Dining, a stunning 23rd-floor space that sports a fantastic view of the city. The food here sees sparks of genius on the part of Chris in the form of foie gras satay, roast Wagyu sirloin, butter poached lobster with fried beef tendon and the somewhat deconstructed apple crumble. Technicality, intricacy and innovation are well-practised at Cantaloupe, ranking it a restaurant of high standards in KL. The bar holds an extensive range of wines and liqueurs. Awards Food Awards 2013   Cantaloupe won Best New Restaurant in the Time Out KL Food Awards 2013. It was also shortlisted Best Fine Dining in the same year. Founders Christian Bauer and Eddie Chew were named Food Personalities of the Year in 2013. Our food awards are 100% voted for by the people of KL. This way, we guarantee that popularity and consistent performance are rewarded. Food 40   Food 40 is our monthly, definitive guide for where to eat in the Klang Valley. No entry into the Food 40 has provided any Time Out team member with a free meal or other incentive. If you have eaten somewhere that you think should rank amongst KL's top 40, email us and we'll check it out: editor@timeoutkl.com.

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KL City Centre

Acme Bar & Coffee

March 2012 In an era where ‘good enough’ seems to be the mantra, rare is the gem where boundaries are strenuously pushed and every possible detail, however minute, is tended to with meticulous care. That’s why Acme Bar & Coffee – an exquisite exercise in perfection – is quite possibly the best thing to have happened to the Kuala Lumpur gastronomic scene for a lamentably long time. Breathtakingly stunning interiors (picture a converted loft in a fin de siecle building in the heart of New York) are complemented by a mood that is irreverent but stylish, playful but chic, and with a modern retro sensibility that is irresistibly infectious. A cohesive design narrative starts at the main dining room, and meanders upstairs to the loft bar and intimate niches for private gatherings. Acme may not be the first ultra-stylish eatery to hit KL, but it differs from the rest because no matter how hard you try, it’s nigh impossible to find any cut corners here. Teething problems – usually par for the course with new eateries – were also absent in their first week of operations, and service and food quality were satisfyingly impeccable even with a full house. By extension, the menu is similarly thorough, and familiar food is given a well-thought twist to produce creative new proffering. This is perhaps best encapsulated by the dunking salad, which consists of unadorned honey romaine and a jar of dressing. Deceptively simple, the salad is both visually and texturally appealing, just as th

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KL City Centre

THIRTY8

The signature restaurant of Grand Hyatt KL is undoubtedly the hotel's best. Mornings call for a buffet breakfast of fancy eggs, toast and granola, often hailed as one of the best buffet breakfast spreads in town. The ala-carte menu is a mix of grills and steaks, seafood, sushi and a particularly glorious sashimi platter. The wine list is as extensive as the food menu, and wine can be consumed at the wine bar, fitted with a killer view of the city. With everything going for it, we don't see why this restaurant shouldn't be on every high-flying tourist's list. Awards Food Awards 2013   THIRTY8 was shortlisted Best New Restaurant in the Time Out KL Food Awards 2013. Our food awards are 100% voted for by the people of KL. This way, we guarantee that popularity and consistent performance are rewarded.

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KL City Centre
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Kedai Kak Jat

On a hill behind our old Istana Negara sits a stretch of ikan bakar stalls, but it’s Kedai Kat Jat (more commonly referred to as Gerai No. 3) that stands out. The lone man at the grill may be the silent type but his perfectly cooked, banana leaf-wrapped seafood does all the talking. It’s the freshness of the fish that hits you first; the spicy marinade complements but doesn’t take away from the true taste of the fish. For an extra kick, have it with sambal belacan and wash the spiciness down with a cold glass of air kelapa. As featured in Time Out KL's 101 things to do in KL Awards Food 40   Food 40 is our monthly, definitive guide for where to eat in the Klang Valley. No entry into the Food 40 has provided any Time Out team member with a free meal or other incentive. If you have eaten somewhere that you think should rank amongst KL's top 40, email us and we'll check it out: editor@timeoutkl.com.

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Brickfields
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