I first heard about Reka:Bar well before it opened. When Options visited Ilham Ceramic Studio in Langkawi last October, its owner showed us some commissioned pieces. Little cups for the upcoming Reka:Bar were among them, and we had been waiting with bated breath since.
Located in an upstairs lot in Bukit Damansara, Reka:Bar is all about a theme — which we learnt was closely linked to its menu. At the entrance, a row of dominoes and little bowls with yellow, blue, red and white sand sat at the welcome table as a hint of what was to come. A long space with the bar stretching from one end to the other, Reka:Bar sported modern leather and metal furniture, light wood floors and dispersed neon lights that resembled the colours of the sands at the entrance. At the far end of the bar was a stretch of space dedicated to the flavour lab, with all manner of drink-making contraptions. There was even a large bottle of fermenting kombucha. All the shapes in the space, from the tables and chairs to the edge of the bar, were circular, which tempered the edgy and darker colours and lighting.
There were two signature menus of drinks for customers to choose from: The Domino Effect and the Spotlight Menu, which was titled “Primary Colour: A Celebration of Malaysia”. The former had a circular colour-coded flavour map that showed how each drink was linked to the one next to it, like a domino of ingredients, or as the menu stated, “a chain reaction of flavour”. All cocktails were RM45, which was easy to remember. As we perused the options, a non-alcoholic welcome drink was served in a small ceramic cup from Ilham Ceramic Studio. We were told this drink was a mixture of every key ingredient in The Domino Effect menu. Opening our palates, this concoction was certainly fruit-forward, with an underlying salty flavour and a hint of spice on the finish.
With our taste buds suitably stirred, we opted for a drink from each menu. First to arrive was the Naughty Congee, consisting of Spiced Bacardi 8, Amaro Montenegro, floral Amazake, ginger, matcha and lemon, with a coconut and ginger sprinkle on top. The gingery flavour transports one to an island paradise, and it was fittingly served in a blue-green ceramic cup. The sprinkles atop the large ice cube gave the drink that added bite. The only thing missing from this restorative and resort-like drink was a massage.
From the Malaysian-themed menu, we ordered the Dusun (the Malay word for orchard), which was easily my favourite drink of the evening. This drink had an intriguing list of ingredients: Arquitecto Blanco, tuak, tempoyak (a condiment made from fermented durian), jackfruit soy milk and passion fruit. Although I detest durian, I adored this drink. The Dusun walked the line between sweet and savoury, with a subtle pungency in its finish.
As there was also an extensive food menu, we were quick to sample a few options. The Reka: Trout (RM48) was not only visually appealing but also delicious. Sitting on four little Norwegian potato pancakes was a miso and yoghurt flavoured trout with a healthy topping of slightly tangy mango kerabu. Swayed by its name, we also tried the “Better than Nonna’s” King Prawn Risotto (RM39), which was unimpressive. While the grilled prawns were tasty, the mushroom-filled risotto was bland and could have done with a knob of butter and some Parmesan.
The next two drinks were from The Domino Effect menu. The Watermelon Sugar High (which immediately had the Harry Styles tune playing in my head), was concocted with Roku gin, tarragon, ripe cucumber, watermelon shrub and Shining saké, with vegan sashimi (aka a slice of treated watermelon) as garnish. Sweet and refreshing with a top note of tarragon, this drink was given a savoury bite with the garnish. With each sip, you could taste the watermelon and cucumber and somehow the flavours worked together very well.
The Forbidden Nibble — a mix of Dewar’s 12YO, Port Charlotte 10YO, Melaka cacao nibs, 8-Day apple (Reka:Bar’s home-made green apple syrup that had been fermented for eight days) and aromatic bitters — had quite a familiar and enjoyable flavour. Served in an old-fashioned glass, the big block of ice held a slice of apple with a masala powder garnish that brought out the spiced aromatics of this drink. Although Port Charlotte is known to be a very peaty whisky, in this drink, that smokiness was tempered, allowing the subtle chocolatey notes to come through.
Still peckish, we ordered the Yes We Did A Burger (and it’s really good!) (RM45) which, unlike the risotto, did live up to its name. The patty was a juicy 200g premium Angus blend — layered with baby spinach, tomato, marmalade x house crack sauce, pickled shallots and vintage cheddar — in a soft bun. Flavourful and succulent, with a kick from the sauce, the only thing that was missing was a side of fries.
The staff at Reka:Bar were always attentive, and one barely had to look up before a waiter was at your table asking you about your drinks and food or plying you with another suggestion. We learnt from the floor manager about another subtle decorative element in the space. At the bar itself, the grates have punched holes that spell out Reka:Bar in Braille. This element is also found on the far wall as a decorative feature, with neon lights added.
Loath to leave the flavour train, we asked the bartender to surprise us with our next two drinks, and somehow he managed to pick two perfect cocktails for each of us. My companion had the Bubble Trouble, which comprised Bombay Sapphire, Mancino Vermouth Bianco, Ambrato, Genmaicha tea, marjoram, citrus and a cloud of house-made kombucha air. This refreshingly happy drink might have been a great way to begin an evening at Reka:Bar, as it was light and easy to sip.
My final drink was the Malaysian Rose, another pick from the locally inspired menu. This drink was meant to be a spicy tribute to the hibiscus, our national flower. A concoction of Luxardo Sour Cherry gin, Szechuan peppers, kaffir lime cordial and roselle tonic, this drink was served with a deep-fried sago garnish dusted with Szechuan pepper powder. The Malaysian Rose was a balance of sweet and sour, and a bite of the keropok-like garnish brought out the spicy undertone. That little bit of heat was what made this drink complex and layered.
As the evening grew late, a crowd began to build at Reka:Bar, despite it being a Monday night. With such delicious and well-curated tipples, this place definitely demands another visit or two and is on the road to becoming my new favourite watering hole.
Reka:Bar, 67M Jalan Setia Bakti, Bukit Damansara, KL. Daily, 5pm-midnight. 010 287 8908.
This article first appeared on Mar 14, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.