Critics' choice: Best new cafés, restaurants and bars of 2017

The Time Out KL team highlights the bars and restaurants that made an impression on KL's dining scene over the past year
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For the second 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 October 1 2016 to June 30 2017 (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.

Restaurants

Mr Chew's Chino Latino Bar

icon-location-pin Bukit Bintang

Located on the highest floor of the WOLO Hotel, Mr Chew’s has injected fun, vibrancy and creativity into KL’s dining scene this year with its unusual hybrid of Asian and Mexican cuisine. This former duplex penthouse is outfitted with decor and interiors mirroring its approach to food – imagine, if you will, a Manhattan loft designed during the 1920s Shanghai jazz era with a bit of Art Deco thrown in.

The kitchen is led by Fuego’s Executive Chef James Thong, who seems to be given free reign by the Troika Sky Dining group to push the boundaries between the two cuisines. Take, for instance, his addictive nori taco made with sushi rice, salmon belly, salmon roe and tobiko mayo, or the grilled betel leaves with five spice duck, foie gras, toasted hazelnuts and shaoxing-stewed cherry sauce – all of which present to us familiar ingredients and flavours in a completely new context. The desserts are also worth fawning over – the Dessert Tacos (mango, pomelo, strawberry, hazelnut chocolate) look as good as they taste, and the ais kacang platter invites diners to play around and mix things up as they please.

Cocktails are a highlight here as well; you can expect the same inventiveness in the execution and they’re very easy to drink. We particularly enjoyed Mr Chew’s Take-Away G&T, a drink made with Opihr gin, pink peppercorn and guava that comes in a cool takeaway box. Also go for the Frida Froza, a new take on Frosé (white wine, jasmine cordial, dry vermouth and shiso), as well as the infused sakés. The price of this popularity? Seats are very hard to come by on weekend nights, so book your place well in advance.

Restaurants, Indian

Nadodi

icon-location-pin KL City Centre

Since it opened in March this year, Nadodi has brought a new dimension to KL’s fine dining scene. Named after the Malayalam word for ‘wanderer’, this progressive Indian restaurant aims to bring diners through a gastronomic journey that stretches from the southern Indian regions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and into the Jaffna Peninsula in Sri Lanka. There’s no shortage of ambition here; when it opened, the restaurant offered diners a choice of 11- or 15-course tasting menus; by October, it had revised its menu to include 15- and 17-course tasting menus. In between those months, chef-owners Johnson Ebenezer and Sricharan Venkatesh also worked with DC Restaurant’s Darren Chin for a three-night collaborative dinner that was sold out within days.

The dishes here are impeccably executed and stunningly plated; more importantly they present a whole new side to Indian cuisine never seen before in KL. Some of the standout dishes they’ve made this year are the yoghurt spheroid wrapped in gold leaf, Hokkaido scallops served with tamarind froth, and What Came First – a combination of moussed kalaki (Chennaistyle scrambled eggs), topped with a chicken 65-spiced cracker. Their cocktails aren’t shy of spectacle either; try the Cocktail with No Name, which is made from trufflesteeped gin and bruised basil, and Vodka in the Woods, a burst of a vodka-based drink encased within a mango gel sphere.

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Pahit
Photo: Bryan Ong
Bars and pubs

Pahit

icon-location-pin Bukit Bintang

What makes Pahit stand out in a constantly growing and changing cocktail scene here in KL is its unpretentiousness. It’s a simple enough space, with a cosy interior and a breezy courtyard where you can sit and relax after a long day’s work. Many new cocktail bars around KL try to capture your attention with forced themes, overly gimmicky drinks and strange ingredients that just don’t mix that well. These places forget that most of the time we just want to have a tasty drink without all the bells and whistles. At Pahit, you get exactly that.

Pahit is a gin-focused bar – almost, if not all the drinks are gin based, and they don’t stray too far with their interpretations of classic cocktails. Plus, owner CK – who recently won ‘Best Bartender’ at the KL Bar Awards – understands his crowd perfectly. For example, the Gin Pahit #2 is a tweak on the classic Pink Gin cocktail to suit to Malaysian tastes, and the refreshing sousvide fruit G&Ts are perfect for our climate (we like the pomelo and elderflower infusions). The drinks coupled with the rustic charm of the bar are exactly why Pahit stands out. In KL bars try to stay ahead of the curve by racing to be the first to import concepts from the cocktail capitals of New York City or Bangkok. But Pahit is unfazed by the trends and keeps it simple – nowhere else can you sit back in the garden on a rattan chair with a calamansi and assam boi G&T in hand.

Flour
Photo: Bryan Ong
Restaurants, Indian

Flour

icon-location-pin Bukit Damansara

Helmed by Mumbai-born Yogesh and Malaysian Natasha, Flour sets the bar high for the North Indian food scene in KL. Since it first opened in January this year, the restaurant has gathered quite a following, and for good reason too. The spread here is authentic, and much of the menu is inpired by the recipes of Yogesh’s father who used to own several popular vegetarian restaurants in Mumbai.

Flour isn’t just a restaurant that wants to serve good food; it wants to introduce the intricacies of North Indian cuisine to us. The catalogue-like menu goes into detail of the background and how each dish is prepared, and the respect the team shows to the cuisine is reflected in the restaurant’s polished selection of dishes. Take the biryani – light and fluffy long grain rice laced with spices and chock-full of tender meat that’s been marinated in yoghurt; Natasha’s insistence on creating a dish that’s reminiscent of exactly what you’ll get in India has made it a crowd favourite.

A large part of North Indian cuisine is the bread. Here, there are several types of bread freshly made in-house that are perfect for dipping into the various curries and go wonderfully well with a pot of masala chai – the lightly spiced tea balances out the richness of the food perfectly. Because of Flour’s popularity, we recommend making reservations a week in advance to avoid disappointment.

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Proof Pizza + Wine
Photo: Bryan Ong
Restaurants, Pizza

Proof Pizza + Wine

icon-location-pin Bangsar

Sleek and refined, Proof brings a quiet but distinct elegance into the pizza scene in KL. What makes it stand out from the glut of pizza delivery services and casual family joints is founder Wong Yin How’s insistence on quality, with a focus on the restaurant’s pizza base: it’s made from hand-stretched sourdough that’s been proofed for at least 24 hours (up to an impressive 48) and is full of flavour. That excellent sourdough base that’s both chewy and crunchy lines their crowd favourite Umbrian black truffle pizza, an incredibly savoury pie topped with earthy black truffle paste, chunky forest mushrooms and rich taleggio cheese, bursting with intense flavours that linger.

Wong’s stand on quality extends to the dining experience at Proof; blazing fires from the wood-fired ovens on the ground floor of the small two-storey space bathe the restaurant in warm light, and the commanding floor-to-ceiling wine shelf – with various labels of pizza-friendly wines – lends a touch of class. Service here is impeccable, with patient staff ready to dish out recommendations that almost always hit the mark.

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