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Critics' choice: Best new cafés, restaurants and bars of 2016

From modern interpretations of Asian cuisines to fine plated desserts and concept bars, these are the best new openings as awarded by the Time Out KL food and drink critics

For the first time, the ‘Best New Openings’ category in the Time Out KL Food & Drink Awards is judged by a panel of food and drink critics. Outlets which opened between July 1 2015 and June 30 2016 (to coincide with the voting period of the readers’ choice categories) were considered. We visited these outlets multiple times – anonymously and we paid for our own meals – and they were scored on four criteria: food, service, setting/ambience and price. So this is it: The most exciting and most promising new restaurants, cafés and bars in the Klang Valley.

Skullduggery
1/8

Skullduggery

Skullduggery is like a sophisticated man cave. Push though the hidden entrance behind its sister outlet Huckleberry and head up the stairs to find a Johann Kraus-like containment suit (from the ‘Hellboy’ comics) greeting you. Inside, it’s a den of plush leather Chesterfields, copper-chromed skulls, and a toy train delivering shots to patrons. Style, yes, but with substance to back it all up as well.

In this year of the cocktails, bars are set on out-inventing each other, but Skullduggery harks back to the golden age of cocktails instead by perfecting the forerunners that set the foundation. Head mixologist Viji Thomas (pictured above) is a man of precision; he’s particular about every detail that goes into the making of the cocktails, from the density of the ice (they make their own in house) to the nuanced acidity between local and Vietnamese limes. Here, it’s not so much about the fancy cocktails (though their house cocktails are good too), but honouring the great classics using the finest ingredients.

Verdict: Classic cocktails done right; this bar will school you in what makes the perfect cocktail by re-examining the classics.

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Bukit Damansara
PS150
Photo: Daniel Chan
2/8

PS150

PS150 is breaking the variegated cocktail landscape in the simplest ways: novel setting, snappy service and stiff drinks. The hidden bar’s triumph stems from mastering the palates of its patrons who, amid the monotony of watering holes in the city, hanker for excitement, garnished with a side of nostalgia. Hence, the birth of PS150’s greatest hits such as Lychee No 3, Manuka Matata, and their version of Jungle Bird.

Bartenders are highly knowledgeable: Chief Angel Ng is fast, neat and smart – a contemporary cocktail progenitor who fondly experiments, from coaxing the flavours of pandan juice to maximising the potential of Bornean rice wine in her quirky inventions. PS150 is the vermouth to the city’s martini – it absolutely shook up KL’s drinking scene.

Verdict: PS150 is giving standard drinks an edge of individuality with a Southeast Asia leaning. This is probably how Wong Kar Wai would envision his bar to be, if he had a bar.

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Petaling Street
Coppersmith
3/8

Coppersmith

There’s no doubt that Troika Sky Dining is home to some of the best views in the city, and Coppersmith – the space’s new cocktail bar – is immediately advantageous because of it. But it’s not just the views you should come for; the bar’s fanciful cocktail menu breaks all the rules while keeping you hooked.

You could go for the classics, but we recommend you skip those and aim for the more whimsical concoction s like The Smith’s Daughter, smoky and citrusy at once, and adorned with salted kumquat fruit leather. The Banana Rama is made with house-brewed banana beer and served with dried banana dipped in chocolate, while the Old Fashioned is served with shaved truffle – as fun as these cocktails may sound, they also deliver on the count of straight-up deliciousness.

Verdict: A fine-dining approach to craft cocktails, showcasing the latest trends in mixology: house-made infusions, barrel-aged cocktails and more.

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KL City Centre
Sitka Studio
4/8

Sitka Studio

While Sitka Studio may be one of the increasing number of restaurants that champion local ingredients, Chef Christian Recomio and his team of local chefs are more about reinterpreting locally sourced produce using classic and modern cooking techniques. The team has taken to pickling, salting, ageing, fermenting, smoking, curing and dehydrating their own meats and ingredients. It’s hard to categorise the cuisine at Sitka Studio, but there’s always a sense of clarity in the food here – from the clear ideas to their precise executions and resulting clean flavours.

Many restaurants in KL see modern Asian cuisine as merely elevating existing local dishes, but Sitka Studio could be presenting a different trajectory altogether: What if modern Asian cuisine is about treating local ingredients with cooking techniques from other regions or cultures to create new, but familiar, flavours that are distinct to this region? Now that’s an exciting proposition.

Verdict: A new and refreshing approach to modern Asian cuisine where local produce is reinterpreted using classic and modern cooking techniques.

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Bukit Damansara
Coquo
5/8

Coquo

If food is thought of as a messenger of a culture, a meal at Coquo is akin to a crash-course on flavours from around the world. Chef Toni Valero, formerly of now-closed Ohla fame, stimulates appetites by parsing regional differences, approaching ingredients such as Hokkaido scallops and local prides like squid from Pulau Ketam with an almost scholarly reverence.

His repertoire of cooking goes beyond the standard, crafting the menu’s narrative around techniques (think sous vide, Josper oven and foam), like the ibérico tartare – a suspenseful dish that, thanks to the smoke, even the most unadventurous can’t begrudge. Coquo is adopting a tone of expertise: Here’s a place that daringly flits between classed up local ingredients and clever permutations of foreign produce – all enmeshed in the restaurant’s commitment to thrill and push boundaries.

Verdict: It may take time to warm up to Coquo’s unusual culinary ensemble, but the acute cooking techniques and visual dish compositions justify the price.

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Solaris Dutamas
enfin by James Won
6/8

enfin by James Won

Chef James Won is one of the city’s most sought after chefs for brand collaborations; he has created pairing dinners for Hennessy cognac, Strongbow cider and Krug champagne. On the surface, his food may come across as a show-off as it’s often a brazen display of how many techniques, ideas, textures and flavours he can jam into one plate of food – but it’s all for good reasons considering his solid grounding as a classically trained chef.

While a lot of his food take inspiration from local dishes such as chicken rice and elevating them to fine dining standards, he really excels when he’s creating playful dishes that aren’t what they appear to be. Case in point: a chicken liver pâté dish that masquerades as a crème caramel, and an elaborate egg dish that treats egg yolks in multiple ways (cured in miso, solidified, slow cooked in prawn oil, and made into pasta).

Verdict: Bold food jam-packed with flavours and textures, and often with a cheeky twist.

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KL City Centre
Cream
7/8

Cream

Cream – an extension of The Roast Things – is one of the best new coffee roasters and specialists in the city at the moment; the proof is in their excellently poured filtered brews, which come in both hot and cold temperatures, allowing for comparison of notes between the two. The baristas here take their time with each order, considering all aspects of preparing your drink. An upside is that the baristas are able to explain each coffee origin with informed accuracy, and are able to consistently put on a show with a smile.

Verdict: One of the ‘new wave’ coffee bars/roasters championing light- to medium-roast coffee.

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Petaling Jaya
Foo Foo Fine Desserts
8/8

Foo Foo Fine Desserts

Stylish and refined, Foo Foo Fine Desserts is a sweet treat in TTDI. Opened by pastry chef Chong Kin Foo, an alumnus of Le Cordon Bleu Sydney, Foo Foo serves up desserts with delicate flavour combinations, all beautifully plated. At a time when our city’s café scene is choked with big breakfasts and cakes sitting in chillers, their thoughtfully plated desserts come as a refreshing upgrade, a much-needed boost to the scene.

Attention to detail is evident – the pavlova is made up of layers of pillowy meringue, complete with an eggshell-thin crust and velvety lime Chantilly, while the spiced Shiraz poached pear is paired with chrysanthemum ice cream and osmanthus jelly. As the menu is updated every other month, there’s always a reason to visit. Fine desserts indeed.

Verdict: Restaurant-quality desserts in a casual café setting. Plus a keen mastery in inventive ice cream flavours.

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TTDI

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