It is a bit like that first nibble of something decadent or a sinful sip of wine after a particularly arduous detox or diet programme. For the majority of us who have begun dining out or, at least, are entertaining thoughts of doing so, the feeling of being able to savour that first meal out after several months of being limited to home cooking or takeaway cuisine, is positively cathartic … literally a delicious release.
There are, however, several factors to consider before ploughing through your personal list of preferred dining rooms. Chosen venues should tick all the requisite boxes when it comes to comfort as well as quality, with two of the most important considerations being adequate spacing between tables and good ventilation. In a tropical climate, it makes sense to pick a spot where al fresco or even semi-alfresco seating is offered. From our recent survey of some Klang Valley spots, new and old, here are six dining venues to consider.
This little izakaya is much loved by KL’s Japanese community and salarymen community for its no-fuss vibe and wide-ranging menu, which spans traditional favourites like sashimi and tempura to more yoshoku-style offerings, such as volcano maki, tokusei curry nabe and menchi katsu. It can seem stuffy indoors, so our advice would be to avoid it altogether and make a beeline for the al fresco seating area. Not only is it so much more pleasant but, for the voyeurs among us, it gives you a good vantage point from which to observe the comings and goings of Jalan Perak.
And should you happen to be stopping by after work, there’s no better place at which to sit, accompanied by a plate piled high with kushiyaki (tasty morsels of meat, seafood and vegetables skewered on sticks and grilled) and an ice cold biru to watch the city wind down. Koryori Enoshima may not be the perfect spot to impress your first-time dinner date but its reasonable prices and casual atmosphere make it a good choice for the unpretentious diner while the value-for-money lunch sets keep the bellies of the city’s working crowd happy and satisfied.
Ground floor, Wisma Cosway, 88 Jalan Raja Chulan, KL. Daily, noon-2.30pm; 6-10.30pm. 03 2148 9390.
Rare The Food Company
Fine dining with a Japanese-Spanish streak, exquisite ingredients and an al fresco setting that immediately puts you at ease with its breezy ambience and view of twinkling lights from the condominiums on the surrounding hillside? Sign us up please, on the double. Long the go-to spot for the city’s culinary cognoscenti, Rare The Food Company is helmed by serious foodies and F&B industry stalwarts, and offers you the intoxicating opportunity to tuck into delicacies such as chawanmushi studded with espardenyes (Spanish sea cucumber), angel hair pasta topped with Japanese sea urchin, precious and pricey goose barnacles which a fisherman or percebeiro risked his life to harvest along the Atlantic Coast (in Spain, a particularly dangerous stretch is ominously known as the Costa da Morte or “Coast of Death”) or a rare slab of Galician Rubia Gallega, which connoisseurs refer to as the bovine Holy Grail.
If you’ve watched Steak (R)evolution, a 2014 French film that trails Franck Ribiere’s gourmet road trip in search of the world’s best steak, you’d want to call ahead to ensure Rare has it in stock. The good news doesn’t end there. With corkage charge capped at a thoughtful RM30 per bottle, all your savings can be channelled to a second round of whatever struck your fancy that evening. And we can bet you there’ll be too many items you’d want another order of.
Second floor, The Club @ Empire Residence, Jalan PJU 8/1, Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya. Tues-Sun, 6-11pm. 016 6704 257.
Three Years Old Cafe
Occupying a corner lot along a historical stretch of terraced houses in the heart of the city (gin lovers would recognise it as being neighbour to hip bar Pahit), Three Years Old is a popular spot for those seeking a java jolt or a slice of cake served with serenity on the side. In these pandemic-addled times, it makes sense to bag the outdoor tables even though there is ample seating inside and on the first level. Come before the midday sun bears directly over your head to enjoy delicious coffee — from classic cappuccinos to tiramisu lattes, with lactose-free options available. And be sure to order something baked to go with it.
The caneles, with caramelised crust and a soft, tender heart, are delicious as are the flaky croissants, best enjoyed with a dollop of umami butter on the side. For something that’ll do the trick for brunch, order the Smashed Avo (a sure-fire hit with Antipodean types) or the sourdough toast with berry compote and butter. Its trio of gorgeous owners — sisters Liz and Jane Loo and best friend Joyce Yap — are almost always on-site to ensure customers are safely seated and well looked after.
1 Jalan Sin Chew Kee, Kuala Lumpur. Thurs-Tues, 9.30am-6.30pm. 03 2110 6666.
My Humble Bowl
If you are a fan of Kenny Hills Bakers’ brand of baked goods, you ought to give its youngest sibling a try. Named My Humble Bowl and just a stone’s throw from the Kenny Hills Bakers outpost of newly revamped retail and leisure development The Stories of Taman Tunku, the latest “baby” of serial restaurateur Au Tai Hon offers comfort in literal bowls. A quick glance at the simple and not overly extensive menu rattles off like a list of all the things you dream of tucking into after spending a few weeks abroad. There’s Sichuan salt and pepper squid, aromatic crispy duck, yam cake, salted egg yolk fried rice and sup buntut with a side of sambal and salted duck egg.
Only outdoor dining, on the shady car park-facing terrace, is available until the pandemic-induced cloud lifts, which is no bad thing. Ventilation is excellent and if the afternoon heat starts getting to you, you can, thankfully, order any of the three choices of bingsu (Korean ais kacang is the easiest description for those seemingly uninfluenced by the Hallyu) listed: matcha, honey mango and strawberry-pomegranate. If you happen to pop by once the sun begins to set, do know that corkage for a BYO bottle of wine is just RM60. Like we said, My Humble Bowl’s raison d’etre is to serve up comfort. And boy, does it do just that.
H2 & I1, The Stories of Taman Tunku, Jalan Langgak Tunku, Bukit Tunku, KL. Daily, 11am-10pm. 017 3453 292.
Part of the quartet or so of Vintry restaurants and wine bars that dot the Klang Valley, the shiny new Vintry Symphony is the latest incarnation of a former outlet at Jaya 33 next door. The extensive selection of wines by the bottle is thoughtfully displayed according to varietal and region in neat rows of shelves. All one needs to do is browse the selection, pick one (if you are impatient, the trick is not to choose solo bottles; more than two bottles displayed means there’s guaranteed to be one of its friends already sitting in the chiller, ready to drink) and select a spot at which to wash it all down with some hearty pub grub.
Those who don’t even imbibe make their way here simply because of the food. After all, little fault can be found with the likes of Vintry’s signature roasted pork belly, crunchy and crispy fried turmeric chicken skin, luncheon meat fried rice or platters piled high with the ultimate selection of happy hour nibbles, like cheese and conserves, cold cuts or gourmet sausages. The outdoor seating area is beautifully airy. A word of advice: it would be wise to sit inside if you suffer from ornithophobia. Residents familiar with this established PJ neighbourhood will tell you that, come dusk, the huge trees across the road attract so many roosting birds, you’d worry it was Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds come to life.
Ground floor, Menara Symphony, 5 Jalan Professor Khoo Kay Kim, Section 13, PJ. Mon-Sat, 2-11pm. 03 7960 6737.
Miss jet-setting and getting your dose of exotica? Thankfully, Joloko and its Afro-Caribbean vibes bring the hues and rhythm of the outside world that little bit closer. The colourful, transformed former pre-war townhouse and its lush, colourful and inviting interiors have long been a magnet for the city’s cool kids who come for an all-round good time. The menu is seamlessly sans frontieres and takes you from Cuba (by way of Ropa de Vieja) to Jamaica (jerk chicken), Senegal (jollof rice) and Mexico (guava-glazed prawn tostadas).
Thirsty, deprived travellers know how to make friends with the bartending crew who’d only be too happy to ensure one tastes their way through the most impressive selection of Mexican liquors, primarily tequila and mezcal. If you insist on ending the night on a sweet note, hurry down the road to sister establishment Licky Chan & The Poke Guy for a scoop of unconventionally boozy ice cream. If you have dietary requirements, worry not. Licky’s woke team will thoughtfully ensure everyone is loved and served, with alcohol-free, dairy- and vegan-friendly options available at all times.
43 Jalan Kamunting, Off Jalan Dang Wangi, KL. Daily, noon-midnight. 03 2694 1100.
This article first appeared on Sept 27, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.