KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 4 — Dining in the capital’s Golden Triangle can be a blah affair, often limited to fast food chains and sterile food courts in shopping mall. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Enjoy three square meals in the Kuala Lumpur city centre — breakfast, lunch and dinner — outside of the malls. From a no-frills street vendor to a refined bistro-bar, it’s time to get out of your comfort zone and explore.
Nasi lemak bungkus: Breakfast to go
Many of those who work smack in the city centre don’t even have time for breakfast, what with the interminable traffic jam. Raiding the pantry of stale biscuits and free-flow coffee (courtesy of three-in-one sachets) seems the only way to avoid starvation before lunch.
Or you could get a little exercise and explore the side alleys around your office for street food to go. One such vendor is located behind The Intermark, not along the main road of Jalan Tun Razak, but to the rear, where Jalan Damai provides an alternative route to work for experienced drivers. The no-name stall can be found in a tiny lane next to the Rumah Transit PDRM, not far from Lorong Damai 4.
Sounds hard to find? Maybe, but the piping hot nasi lemak that the makcik serves up is worth hunting the stall down. For one thing, the various lauk (dishes) that accompany the coconut milk rice is fresher than other stalls, which may explain the relatively later opening time of 8am. (Some mornings, she opens as early as 7:30am but don’t count on it.)
The usual sides of fried eggs, fried chicken, ayam masak merah (as fiery as it looks so considered yourself warned), sambal udang petai (spicy prawns and stink beans) and more are covered in hygienic containers so they’re not exposed to the city’s smog. There are fried vermicelli and fried rice too as well as kuih-muih including curry puffs, pandan-flavoured onde-onde and steamed kuih lompang.
But you can go real simple and have your nasi lemak with just the spicy and fragrant sambal, and this would still be one of the best nasi lemak bungkus in the city. When your food is freshly cooked and still steaming, it just makes your takeaway morning meal that much more splendid.
Those with a little more time can enjoy their breakfast at the stall. Grab a stool, order your teh tarik or Nescafé kaw and watch other busy bees rush to get into office. They’re welcome to the dry biscuits and the three-in-one coffee.
Quick, good and cheap: Ju chow next to KLCC
When meetings run back-to-back, lunch is a sacred hour to be relished. Yet it’s exactly that — an hour — so time is of essence. And if it’s not quite the end of the month yet (i.e. salary time), prudence advises dining on a budget, quite a challenge in the city centre where everything seems to be more expensive.
Seasoned office workers know better than to eat in shopping malls — even the food courts have prices that stop you in your path — and head to economy rice stalls and ju chow (cook-to-order) shops in older buildings. Wisma Central along Jalan Ampang, within walking distance of both Suria KLCC and Avenue K, is a haven for this type of reasonably priced lunch.
Ignore its façade that doesn’t appear to have been updated since the 1980s; Wisma Central hoards many lunchtime treasures that won’t break the bank, running the gamut of local, Thai, Indonesian and Japanese cuisine. The busiest, judging by the queues during peak hours, and a firm favourite has to be Restoran Sweet Home.
Located on the ground floor of Wisma Central, Restoran Sweet Home offers a wide variety of cooked dishes for economy rice aficionados. Expect freshly-cooked chicken curry, spicy siew yoke (roast pork belly), fried spam (also known as luncheon meat), braised tofu, different types of stir-fried leafy greens and more.
Most regulars order the ju chow rice dishes; these come with the soup of the day — double-boiled steamed soups such as ABC (carrot, potato and tomato) and old cucumber — if you order the lunch set. Recommended dishes include the steamed salted fish pork paste, yellow wine chicken (wong zao gai) and mushroom gravy pork chop rice.
Depending on the day of the week, Restoran Sweet Home also offers daily specials such as ginger fish fillet rice and steamed chicken rice with Chinese waxed sausages (both of these are available on Fridays). Don’t forget your vegetables — the kangkung belacan and the choy tam (Brussel sprouts’ leaves) with diced chicken are very good.
A decadent dinner: End your day in style
It is the end of a marathon work day. A big project with tight deadline has been completed ahead of schedule. Your boss, or maybe your client, wants to take your entire team out to celebrate. Time to reward yourself after weeks of burning the midnight oil. (Plus: someone else — with an expense account, no less — is footing the bill.)
You could try BLVD House, one of the classiest joints in the city centre. The “casual chic” restaurant and bar has a menu that is supposed to evoke the cosmopolitan fare of New York, London and Paris. Certainly the ambience is polished, subtly harking back to the Golden Age captured in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal novel, The Great Gatsby.
Louvred doors open into a warm interior with sophisticated use of glass, wood, brass and marble. Music of choice appears to be jazz (another nod to the Golden Age). The entire effect is timeless, luxurious and laid back.
Begin with an appetiser of Crispy Baby Prawn Salad. The tiny, crunchy crustaceans garnish an orange fennel salad dressed in raspberry sauce. The flavours and textures are balanced; a nice, light way to begin your evening meal. For something richer, try the buttery Mussels and Clams Pot, another homage to the ocean’s bounty; these are served with garlic brioche or country fries.
BLVD House’s signature dish is Chef Pele Kuah’s Bean-Can Roasted Free-Range Baby Chicken. As much a performance as it is a dish, your server will bring an entire roasted chicken, its cavity crammed on a can, to your table. The famous fowl is doused in flames, setting off a series of “Wow!” and “Oooh!” from around your table (and perhaps from neighbouring tables too).
Once the flames die down, the chicken-on-a-can is removed before being returned cut into bite-sized pieces and served with savoury baked beans that has all those lovely caramelised chicken juices. Fantastic.
If you must have carbs, the Carbonara Fettuccine is an interesting take on the classic pasta dish that uses smoked duck and a tobiko (flying fish roe) “caviar” cream sauce. Or save space for desserts such as the Honey Sweet Foie Gras crêpe, which pairs the Breton pancake with pan-seared goose liver and chocolate gelato, and the Oozing Ovomaltine Beignets, a twist on the New Orleans dougnuts spiked with vanilla sugar, nut crumble and salted caramel ice cream.
The promise is decadence. Go on, dig in.
Nasi lemak stall behind The Intermark
Off Jalan Damai (in between Rumah Transit PDRM and Lorong Damai 4), Kampung Datuk Keramat, Kuala Lumpur
Open Mon-Sat 8am- 11:30am; some Sundays open (same time)
Restoran Sweet Home
1-12 & 1-13 Ground Floor, Wisma Central, Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur
Open Mon-Sat 8am-6pm; Sun closed
Tel: 012-238 2865
Ground floor, Naza Tower, Platinum Park, Persiaran KLCC, Kuala Lumpur
Open Mon-Thu 12pm-11pm; Fri 12pm-1am; Sat 9am-12am; Sun 9am-11pm
Tel: 03-2630 9999