In Kuala Lumpur, you can find the world’s best laksa – and so much more. By Chris Wright.
Malaysia’s unique cultural mix is reflected in its food: it’s not just the range of options, but the fun of different styles intersecting. Capital Kuala Lumpur offers some of Southeast Asia’s best food. Here’s a quick guide.
South American swagger
Top of the pile is Fuego with perhaps the best view in town, 23 floors up in the open air looking at the Petronas Towers and the KL skyline. (Yes, you get a higher view from the towers themselves but from there, you can’t see the towers!) Fuego offers pan-Latin-American tapas plates (five different kinds of guacamole, for a start) and a good atmosphere.
Japanese fusion from on high
Sticking with the high-end-plus-view theme, Babe in Bukit, Damansara is one of the newer names in town, and wins rave reviews for its creative food, a sort of Japanese tapas that they’ve called “Japas”. It looks over downtown, one of the best views in KL.
Traditional ingredients, modern techniques
Staying in the Damansara Heights area, Sitka combines a long-established shopfront restaurant with a newer counterpart upstairs. It uses locally sourced ingredients, often from small farms, and some intriguing combinations (mushroom miso waffle for breakfast, anyone?) Downstairs is a casual café-style eatery, upstairs a fine-dining tasting menu.
The ultimate food street
Moving down a notch but keeping the quality, Jalan Alor is a renowned food street in the centre of Kuala Lumpur, quiet by day but jumping at night. You can try anywhere there with success but Wong Ah Wah is famed for its chicken wings, best washed down with a Tiger beer. The stingray and crabs are also great. Jalan Alor is a land of plastic chairs and touts waving menus amid the chaos, so come prepared for the onslaught.
Another inexpensive but famed establishment is Lai Foong Restaurant on Petaling Street, which is basically a hawker-style collection of stalls within a restaurant. They have been selling their much-loved beef noodles here since the 1950s. A standard bowl costs 8 ringgit (A$2.60); not a place to worry about blowing your budget.
Banana leaf eating
And if it’s unpretentious and affordable local food you want, you have to try a banana leaf Indian restaurant, Indian restaurants where food is served on a banana leaf. If you can’t swing an invite to the members-only Royal Selangor Club, try the neighbourhood of Brickfields, also known as Little India, with Vishal Food & Catering by the Indian temple a reliable winner. Once you’re seated, a waiter will bring you a vivid green banana leaf, then fill it with rice, vegetables and sauces. You then choose what else to have with it. The norm is to eat with your hands. As one resident advises: “Don’t wear a white shirt.”
Destination food hall
Another restaurant that isn’t quite a restaurant is Ben’s Independent Grocer, or BIG, at Publika Shopping Gallery. It is fundamentally a high-end supermarket but incorporates a huge food hall and lots of options in seated dining, from Malay dishes to freshly shucked oysters. You can watch live cooking demonstrations or even take classes there if the mood takes you.
Craving some Japanese while you’re in town? Try Kinme Sashimi & Grill. Aside from the wonderful food it gets plaudits for its service, which if we’re honest isn’t always the case in KL. Chef Voon, who made his name at Iketeru at the Hilton, runs it and the sashimi and nigiri plates are recommended.
Returning to more local fare, Bijan is admired for affordable Malay fine dining. It has a fan-cooled courtyard and inside seating. It’s another that offers cooking courses. The duck rendang is particularly recommended but almost anything will impart a flavour to remember. It can get busy, though, so turn up early.
For a taste of home, try Drift on Jalan Bedara. The theme here is Australian with Asian influences under Sydney-born chef Angus Harrison. The fried polenta in gorgonzola cream with sautéed mushrooms has a particular fan club. It is an open-plan place with good service and an emphasis on shared dishes. It also happens to be one of the best cocktail bars in town.