Indulge in the full diversity of Malaysia’s F&B scene at some of these new dining joints in the Klang Valley, from a quirky hole in the wall to a fancy yakitori outlet.
Cuisine type: Internationally influenced modern-fusion small plates
Where: Rooftop, REX KL, 80 Jalan Sultan, Kuala Lumpur
Contact: 012 612 0786
In a nutshell: If the idea of KL’s Chinatown, books and shabby chic meeting retro cool sounds good to you, then a reservation at this quirky new spot is called for. Come early to browse the thousands of books gorgeously displayed at the Bookxcess store before heading one level up to Shhhbuuuleee. You just need to be sure-footed and able-bodied, as it’s a climb right up to the fourth level, where a small terrace garden overlooking the rooftops of Petaling Street awaits.
The dining experience: Shhhbuuuleee is not the place to be if you are assailed by serious hunger pangs. The dishes are small but beautifully formed, as evinced by a starter of barramundi fish tartare served with a side of seaweed crackers (RM32). An elegant take on a local favourite comes to life in a platter of cold mee sua tossed in Shaoxing wine and shiitake broth (RM36).
But if it’s beer o’clock with your group, the tempura spiced cauliflower in mala vinegar caramel (RM24) goes down a right treat — all hot and punchy notes with a virtuous feel, courtesy of the cruciferous veg. If you feel the need for something a little more mainstream or gentle on the palate, the fried sole with salted chili mustard greens and shiso (RM42) would do the trick. And don’t forget to sneak some extra fibre into your diet by ordering the kale sautéed in kombu butter with wood ear mushrooms — healthy yet laden with addictive umami (RM22).
What to drink: Whisky highballs, for sure! Or Hi-Balllls, as they are referred to here. Pick from versions starring salted preserved lime, nigori ume and prosecco or shochu and soda. Or select from the small but conscientious wine list, all featuring tipples that are either sustainably, organically or biodynamically grown.
Cuisine type: Casual Italian with a good selection of traditional as well as fusion pizzas
Where: If you haven’t visited B.Land at Lot 5 along Jalan 51a/225 in an industrial part of Petaling Jaya, we recommend you do so post-haste. It’s infinitely popular with the younger crowd who come decked out in cool sneaks and Acme de la Vie tees. There are several F&B outlets to try here, including the very popular Nippori Bistro, but Pepo Pizza caught our eye with its red-brick exterior and welcoming vibe.
Contact: 017 245 8035
In a nutshell: In search of a fuss-free place to feed the young ’uns or a wallet-friendly spot that wouldn’t fuss if your party came noisy and sporting t-shirts and flip-flops? Pepo Pizza ticks all the right boxes.
The dining experience: If you are looking for fresh tagliatelle topped with tartufo bianco and a fine bottle of Barolo or Barbaresco to while the night away with, we recommend you leave right away. However, if you simply want a friendly, welcoming pizza parlour that would please tantrum-throwing children or sullen teens, stroll right in. The menu offers all the basic but belly-pleasing favourites, such as skillet meatballs (RM18), smoked duck spaghetti (RM24) and deep-fried spring chicken (RM38), but it’s the pizza pies you’d want.
The Quattro Formaggi (RM33), starring gouda, scarmoza, mozzarella and gorgonzola cheeses, is wonderful for the lactose-loving diner. If you wish to be divisive, order the Tropicana (RM26 and Pepo’s take on the Hawaiian) and watch the debate begin on whether pineapple topping on pizza is a culinary cardinal sin. There are also two Korean-inspired pizzas on offer — Black Angus bulgogi (RM36) and spicy chicken kimchi (RM28), a by-product of the hallyu, no doubt. Interestingly, you can also end your meal with pizza. There’s the kaya butter option (RM18) and the chocolate cloud (RM20). Both were, frankly, too sweet and strange for our party but, as they say, different strokes for different folks.
What to drink: There’s only house-pouring red and white here, so you might be better off with a bucket of beers instead. Pick from Carlsberg, Asahi, Royal Stout, Somersby and Kronenbourg Blanc.
Cuisine type: International
Where: 199 Jalan Bukit Bintang, within the Westin Hotel KL, on its lower ground level
Contact: 010 308 0888
In a nutshell: Ever since it opened its doors last August, people have been going to Finch to drink as much as to eat. The décor is eclectic, to say the least (think gilded bird cages and dangling naked light bulbs), but it’s the al fresco area with spacious wooden deck that really draws the crowds.
The dining experience: It’s a little bit of the world on Finch’s menu. From the East, you have Japanese miso soup (RM12), char kway teow (RM23) and Cantonese noodles (RM26). Western offerings include British-style fish and chips (RM42), nachos with beef con carne (RM28) and mushroom truffle pappardelle (RM38).
What to drink: There’s coffee, tea and healthy options such as kombucha, of course, but everyone comes to Finch for a jolly good time. Those who like to live life on the effervescent side would appreciate its extensive champagne list as well as slightly more cost-efficient package options. There are Louis Roederer’s Cristal 2012, priced from RM6,808 (three bottles) to RM25,788 (12 bottles); or Dom Perignon Luminous at RM4,098 (three bottles) and RM 15,528 (12 bottles). The wine list is also luscious, divided according to regions and appellations.
If it’s a party you are attending (or getting started), then the shooter trays are a must to order; for example, twelve shots of Lemon Drops are priced at RM198. But if you intend to get things pumping and fast, then Finch also offers the Shooter Tray Maniac at a whopping 36 shots per tray. The wonderful thing about larging it here is, should the bender get too great, one need only check oneself in for the night at the Westin. Party in safety? Always a good idea.
Cuisine type: Italian, naturalmente
Where: 27 Jalan SS 20/11, Damansara Kim, PJ. For those familiar with the row of eateries, it is the old Café Del Tesso, whose name is still inscribed on the door handles.
Contact: 03 7731 0880
In a nutshell: If you are missing Italy, this neighbourhood trattoria might be the answer for comfort cooking any nonna would approve of. The décor is basic but it’s hugely popular with the locals, who come for a quick, heaped bowl of pasta or even casual chit-chat served alongside strong espresso and freshly baked pastries.
The dining experience: After an initial, less-than-stellar reservation hiccup and ensuing delay in being seated, Casa of Italy’s young but enthusiastic team managed to charm their way into our less-than-amused hearts. Although it’s positioned as your simple but friendly neighbourhood joint, the kitchen takes great pride in what they do.
A simple dish of Vongole Vino Bianco (RM28) is bursting with flavour as it explodes with notes of rocket (courtesy of the rucola butter), garlic confit, dash of dried chilies and umami-rich clams. Any establishment that serves Acqua Pazza (RM66) also gets a few extra points in our books. Casa of Italy’s take on this Neapolitan dish (its name literally means “crazy water” but is used to describe white fish poached in a broth of herbs and/or white wine) features barramundi fillet, fresh tiger prawns, mussels and clams in stock that begs for bread with which to mop it up.
If you are feeling extra peckish, then the hunter’s chicken, or Pollo alla Cacciatore (RM37), is the dish to order. Its flavour base of tomato sauce, black olives and mixed vegetables also mean it is almost guaranteed to find favour with finicky children. Those with a sweet tooth invariably come here for the chocolate truffles (three pieces for RM15, five for RM20) which are mouthfuls of pure ganache delight.
What to drink: There’s a small but adequate list of beer and wine. Nothing fancy but it will perfectly suffice if you are looking for a simple glass of red or white to go with your meal.
Cuisine type: Japanese, with a strong emphasis on yakitori (Japanese skewers) and maki rolls.
Where: 118 Jalan Burhanuddin Helmi, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL
Contact: 014 677 4687
In a nutshell: Fancy yakitori for dinner without emerging smelling like you’ve attended a satay rave party? Then Sticks N Maki has you sorted. Its central location in well-placed Taman Tun also makes it a most convenient meeting spot.
The dining experience: Service is warm and friendly, yet never obtrusive. The staff were also generous with suggestions and recommendations, including persuading us to order the spot-on amberjack carpaccio (RM48), a lovely, fusion-inspired way to start the meal, and tatami iwashi (RM26) — delicate crisps of compressed baby sardines. When it comes to yakitori, one should never pass up on kawa (chicken skin) or reba (chicken liver) and both were more than satisfactory. If social media videos are your thing, be sure to turn the volume up to record the sound of the crunch when you bite into the former. And although the emphasis here is on yakitori and maki, go on and treat yourself to orders of the sashimi and sushi.
Everything we ordered was fresh and without fault. Another good thing about Sticks N Maki is that it is not smoky in the least for a yakitori outlet — ideal if you are dining with girlfriends or just want an after-work meal in a soothing atmosphere without having to dry clean everything you were wearing and undergo a wash ’n’ blow late at night.
What to drink: Three choices of Kyoto ale (RM35 each) are a great match with smokey, succulent sticks of skewered food. If your tastes tend to veer towards Guinness, go for the Kyoto Kuromame while those who like something fruity and refreshing would do well to order the Kyoto White Yuzu Ale. If you feel slightly celebratory, there’s champagne on the drinks list, of course. But if you’d just like a sip of something posh and yet don’t want to overly indulge, Sticks N Maki surprisingly offers bottles of Mini Moets (RM118), something that isn’t all that easy to find on the market.
This article first appeared on Feb 21, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.