Looking for places to eat in Petaling Street and Old KL? From a steaming bowl of beef noodles to coffee and cake in trendy cafés, here's our list of the best places to eat and drink in these historical areas in the city.
Kopitiams and hawkers
Restoran Kim Lian Kee
For more than 80 years, KLites have sought comfort in the city’s best hokkien mee at Kim Lian Kee – how can any noodle stall rival the birthplace of this hawker staple? You may have dined at its outlets across the city (including Lot 10 Hutong) but only this original stall at Petaling Street opens until wee hours in the morning. A slurp of these thick noodles – coated with dark soy sauce, glistening in lard, and imbued with charcoal-fire wok hei – is all you need to sate that midnight hankering.
Hokkien mee is hawker staple where everyone has a firm and personal idea of how it should taste. Do you like it heavily coated in dark soy sauce, springy and slightly wet? Lian Bee, hidden in an alley next to Lai Foong Restaurant, is all that and more – their noodles arrive with a sprinkle of glistening fried lard, begging you to admire first, and then dig in with a side of homemade belacan. After the original owner passed away his son stopped using charcoal-fire in his cooking but each plate of Hokkien mee is still imbued with fragrant wok hei. A Hokkien mee shack ought to be a bit tumbledown, rowdy and possibly fronted by a kitchen that’s been operating since the ’50s. Lian Bee is exactly that.
Onn Loke Kopitiam
Hotel Loke Ann and its dearly missed kopitiam has been gone for about three years but Uncle Lee who ran the kopitiam is back in business. The kopitiam is now located in Petaling Street near the Madras Lane wet market. If you have a hard time finding it, look for bright blue walls and you've arrived. Tables here are limited, and by limited we mean five. The roti bakar is toasted in a mini oven and slathered with just the right amount of butter and homemade kaya.
Soong Kee Beef Noodles
Soong Kee is easy to find – spot the tinted glass door and you’ll find crowds crammed together behind the entrance. The slurping sound is unmistakable; Soong Kee’s beef noodles are indeed, exceptionally toothsome. The fresh beef tripes and tenderloin meat undergirds the soup, which turns out flavourful and refreshing. Beef balls are meaty and firm but it’s the juicy minced pork that leaves an impression. It coats every width of our noodles, and releases a sautéed fragrance every time we spoon it into our mouths. After 67 years in business and helmed by two generations, Soong Kee still lives up to its standards.
Cafés and bakeries
Like many of the eateries along Petaling Street, Jao Tim – which means ‘hotel’ in Cantonese – is housed on the top floor of a pre-war colonial shop lot; in fact, Jao Tim occupies what was once a hotel, hence its name. Much of the original interior from the hotel is left unchanged – wooden floor panels, exposed brick walls, colonial-style arched windows and even a set of wooden stairs that lead up to the dining area. The space is well-lit, and a small gap in the roof lets even more light into the space. Antiques, gold light switches and brass lamps add the sense of nostalgia and elegance to the otherwise rustic interior. Also a plus point here is a vinyl set that plays old-school jazz and swing tunes – think Sonny Dunham & His Orchestra, The New Glenn Miller Orchestra and Hank Mobley. At the time of writing Jao Tim’s operations are focused on its café, but owners Jian Tan and Jon Teo (who is an interior designer) envisage turning Jao Tim into an art-friendly venue – art workshops are already being organised on the upper deck area, while plans to include an art gallery in the main area are in the pipelines. In the meantime, the café’s compact menu features a selection of pastries, sandwich and pies. The grilled cheese sandwich is the crowd-favourite – mozzarella and cheddar cheese melted between two slices of toasted sourdough bread, served with a side of salad in vinaigrette dressing. Other options include smoked duck quiche, chicken pie and curry chicken pie. For drinks, t
Bunn Choon Petaling Street
Imbi Market's Bunn Choon now has a second outlet on Petaling Street, which means you can get the fresh-out-of-the-oven egg tarts with the flaky pastry and creamy egg filling when you're in Chinatown. Owner Wong Kok Tong and his wife still man the shop, and their trusty classic egg tarts and charcoal black sesame versions are still available.
Walk into the Petaling Street Art House (first floor) on Jalan Sultan and you’ll find a café next to it with a name more appropriate for an Italian coffeehouse. To be fair, there are many things to ‘love’ about Coffee Amo. The owners – Kong and Chung – have made no effort to hide the building’s age, other than sprucing the space up with recycled furniture, several bookshelves and a fresh coat of paint. The café doesn’t serve hot food but you’ll be easily sated with the hand-brewed coffee (Panama Geisha and Jamaican Blue Mountain) and Nutella moist chocolate cake.
Lucy in the Sky
Setting up a café in Old KL can only mean one thing: This is a comfy space for vagabond freelancers, students and backpackers. Lucy in the Sky is a rustic, spick-and-span café with substance. Set in a pre-war shophouse, the café is decked out with cement walls, a long coffee bar and a sun-lit alleyway that encourages lingering. The menu features brunch staples – pancakes, burgers, sandwiches and pastas – but the chef retains some old-school touches, as demonstrated in the French toast fashioned from thick Hailam bread. Coffee here has a velvety depth, which goes down well with a slightly greasy American or English breakfast 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 belad
Banana leaf and Indian restaurants
May 2013 There’s a reason the area around Lebuh Ampang seems like a foreign country to me, and that’s because I have never walked through it. But a recent involuntary trip resulted in the happy discovery of a Chettinad restaurant I would otherwise never have stumbled across, located on the first floor of a series of Indian retail stores and eateries, each one apparently as anonymously homogenous as the last. It’s obvious however that a lot of care was invested in the décor of Betel Leaf, and the gurgling water features and powerful air conditioning are particularly efficacious in salving frayed nerves and reducing the madness of the road outside. The desire to please extends to the menu, where a mammoth variety of Chettinad cuisine from north and south India means that ordering can become a hazardous task, especially if you’re hungry and indecisive. Because dishes are all cooked a la minute, don’t expect your food to appear at the table two seconds after you’ve ordered. The adroitly named chicken lollypop is juicy in a way that only meticulously marinated meat can be. Because coconut milk isn’t prodigiously employed, the focus remains on the spices instead, and that serves to yield flavours that are intensely aromatic and dangerously more-ish. Instead of the bog standard butter chicken masala, try instead the rabbit masala for a leaner, cleaner option. The rabbits – together with goats and fish – are bred on proprietor C Mohan’s farm in Mantin, as are the vegetables that a
Restoran Bunga Raya Indah
One of the best banana leaf experiences in the city hides within a dim first-floor lot along Lebuh Ampang. In 1962, the operation moved from Malacca to KL and has been a favourite of blue-collar workers in the area. They come in large groups and sit on long communal tables for (cheap) double helpings of rice and meat, a culture that’s still apparent these days. This mess concept here goes hand in hand with the Chettinad-style food promoted by owner SS Bharathi Rajah and his team. Not for the faint-hearted, the kudal (goat intestine) and mutton head curries are something of a legend in these parts, but if you’d prefer something tamer, the dry chicken varuval and thick, aromatic crab curry are just as outstanding. Be wary of the lime pickle; it packs a fiery, sour punch that’ll hit you in the gut if you’re not equipped with a glass of chilled mooru (spiced buttermilk) on the side.
Prasad Chetty Nadu Mess
The stairway leading up to what could be KL’s best banana leaf restaurant is an ominous one. There are signs of abandoned life all around; large pieces of unclaimed cardboard are strewn on the cement ground below the stairway, and the paint on the walls are the garish neon hues of a parrot. One floor up, there is more hope. The 15-year-old restaurant comes to view and it’s right out of a set-up in Tamil Nadu – ’80s Tamil hits from a suspended TV, whirring fans and very little elbow room. If you’re opting for a thick curry like crab or chicken, we suggest par-boiled rice over white (ask for puzhungal arisi if the waiter doesn’t understand you). Sides-wise, the stir-fried eggplant is cooked to a creamy mush, the chunky crab curry is the kind you can drink, the dry chicken varuval is unapologetically burnt and crisp on the skin, the mango pickle is lip-puckeringly sour and the mutton kuzhambu comes in a pale ochre shade – the way they have it in Chennai. It’s all like a dream until you step out into the searing chaos of impatient drivers along Lebuh Ampang.
Bars in Chinatown
The bar above Chocha Foodstore has rebranded itself as Botak Liquor. It was previously Ray, whose selling point was being the first bar in KL to offer cocktails on tap. Now, Botak Liquor prides itself on its botanical drinks and ‘farm-to-glass’ concept. But more on that later. Botak Liquor is located not too far from the busy markets of Petaling Street, right in the heart of Chinatown – a location that’s seen some great cocktail bars opening its doors; think PS150, The Attic Bar and Shuang Xi. As with many of the establishments in the area, Botak Liquor occupies an old Chinese shophouse, a setting that’s become somewhat synonymous to the area. Head up the spiral staircase and you’ll find a space that reflects Botak Liquor’s botanical concept – there are plants everywhere you look, in every corner and even hanging above the counter. While there are some cosy corners you can sit in and have a private conversation completely surrounded by greenery, most of the bar’s space is taken up by a long communal table which encourages you to mingle with other patrons. The real highlight here is the drinks, which utilises the ‘farm-to-glass’ approach. It isn’t to dissimilar to the ‘farm-to-table’ concept in that the ingredients are collected from the farm and directly brought to the bar to be served fresh to the patrons – no need for middlemen or markets; every ingredient is either sourced directly from the bar’s own farm or bought from organic sellers. One of the more interesting and pl