Chef Isadora Chai's second restaurant isn't what some might expect. Five years after first bringing modern French flair to PJ with Bistro a Table, Isadora has stretched out into the city centre, taking up two floors of a nearly century-old restored building on Raja Chulan. Antara Restaurant is an exquisite space with profoundly personal touches - its terrace & walkway remind Isadora of her late father's home in Teluk Anson, & her selection of furnishing & a batik-print menu was carefully considered, culminating in a one-of-a-kind centrepiece upstairs of 50 portraits of Tunku Abdul Rahman that reward close contemplation. But while Antara's charm & character seem decidedly steeped in nostalgia, with Saloma & Sheila Majid echoing through the halls, it nonetheless stirs to life as a fresh, vital venue, turning the past into prelude for a restaurant that speaks to the present.
Expect a culinary tapestry of traditional Malaysian, woven with whiffs of French, mirroring the fare that Isadora makes at home for family & friends. Commence with a communal feast of plump popiah that you'll roll yourself at the table, evoking the spirit of preparing & eating food in your grandparents' kitchen. This popiah party (RM48) features a top-flight wrapping skin, fillings & condiments, from French beans with dried scallops to the juiciest jicama & the crunchiest croutons - elaborately fun & fulfilling.
Many recipes in Antara's oeuvre reflect a respect for time-honoured local flavours, artfully balancing the generations-old heritage of Malaysian cuisine with modern gastronomy's ever-expanding palette. Sarawak laksa is crowned with marron for a princely flourish (RM78), while retaining the robust dynamics & dimensions of a Kuching-proud rendition, bolstered by belacan brought into KL from Sarawak. That same belacan packs a punch in some other Antara offerings, including assam chicken wings (RM25) & a deluxe Mee Siam with supremely substantial chunks of delectable, crispy-tender soft-shell crab (RM36).
For customers craving the unconventional chow that has become Isadora's hallmark, it's all here too - delicate pie tee with shaved foie gras & anago (RM27), mantao with luscious foie gras & mango chutney (RM55), toasted chapati with goat's curd & an addictive curried mussel cream (RM22), alongside desserts like hazelnut roti jala with dulce de leche anglaise (RM25) & a 'terribly alcoholic' creme de menthe cendol with kahlua sago pearls that harks back to one of Bistro a Table's degustation dinners three years ago (RM36). This is a risk-taking menu, free of MSG & easy shortcuts, executed with no-nonsense craftsmanship by sterling teams that toil effectively both by the table & behind the scenes to deliver a memorable experience.
Old Malaya, Jalan Raja Chulan, Kuala Lumpur.
Currently open for dinner, Mon-Sat. Will open for lunch & dinner daily eventually. Tel: 03-2078-8881
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