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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.