Saturday, August 17, 2019

With a View, Chatrium Hotel Royal Lake Yangon

For dining with a view in Yangon, reserve a room at Chatrium Hotel Royal Lake, then order in a locally spiced Myanmarese prawn curry and a cocktail to savour while watching the sun set over the Shwedagon Pagoda.

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FLO Bar, Persiaran Ampang

The cocktails flow indeed at FLO - mainly familiar concoctions like Negronis and Whiskey Sours, served by a smiling bartender on this first-floor Ampang hideout.

FLO Ampang
First Floor, 24, Persiaran Ampang, Desa Pahlawan, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 017-641-1731

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SaladStop! Malaysia, NU Sentral

After becoming a stalwart of Singapore's healthy-eats landscape for a full decade, with more than a dozen locations in the island city-state, plus scores of other outposts in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam and even Spain, SaladStop! has finally surfaced in Malaysia, emerging with plenty of fanfare in KL's NU Sentral and Pavilion malls.

Known for its ethos of Eat Wide Awake, SaladStop! was founded by Swiss-born Singaporean resident Adrien Desbaillets and his father Daniel with an emphasis on ethical sourcing, a subject he elaborated on at SaladStop!'s recent grand opening in NU Sentral.

Desbaillets recalls realising how many Singaporean restaurants rely on imported chicken from Brazil because of the frozen poultry's cheaper price, but the fowls there can be heavily pumped up with hormones and live for less than 27 days. SaladStop! sought a more sustainable, organic-friendly source, so it found a farm in Johor for its chicken - that philosophy endures today, as Malaysia's SaladStop! also uses local suppliers for its produce.

That attitude of being conscious of what you consume fuels Eat Wide Awake, knowing not only where your ingredients come from but how they were cultivated and what they contain, to make more informed decisions and to banish preservatives and MSG, for example. SaladStop! believes that if enough people ask these questions and demand more meticulously sourced food, the whole supply chain can change for the better.

SaladStop! seeks to be an everyday destination for Malaysians seeking wholesome nourishment in a convenient form that also satisfies the palate. With more than 60 ingredients to mix and match, as well as 20 house-made dressings, the brand painstakingly offers something tasty for everyone, even if salads have never been your favourite fare.

The menu mainly spans salads, wraps and mixed-grain bowls, with many Asian-inspired recipes for regional taste buds, ranging from the signature Oh Crab Lah (based on Singapore's chilli crabs) to the Japanese-inflected Go Geisha (with soba noodles, edamame, miso and more) to the Korean-loving Yeobo Yeobo (with warm bulgogi beef and Korean chilli vinaigrette).

The offerings we sampled had lively, memorable flavours and fresh, well-balanced textures: The Kokoro is a clean-eating standard-bearer, with tender miso-baked salmon, edamame, furikake and an onsen-style egg atop quinoa, brown rice, white radish pickles, kale and alfalfa sprouts, while the Sabai Sabai heartily combines Thai-influenced lemongrass chicken with quinoa, brown rice, grilled tofu, turmeric, herbs, cherry tomatoes, grapes, cucumber pickles, romaine and crushed peanuts. Western takes are also available, such as the Mamma Mia, harmonious with roasted chicken on fusilli pasta, kale, cheddar, cherry tomatoes, black olives and red onions in a basil pesto sauce. Preset bowls clock in between RM17.90 to RM26.90.

Patrons can also customise their own bowls with their desired ingredients, which is exactly what SaladStop! Malaysia's launch event celebrities did. Chef Wan, Amber Chia and Steve Yap were all smiles as they crafted their own hand-picked lunches; customers can choose six toppings for a serving of the Grain Bowl (RM19) or a salad, wrap or pasta (RM15), with chilled juices for a liquid dose of revitalisation.

SaladStop!'s reign in Singapore might sound like a decade without decadence, but a taste of its offerings proves that nutritious meals can actually be lusciously lovable too. Many thanks to SaladStop! for this peek into its pleasures.

SaladStop! Malaysia
LG 20, Lower Ground floor, NU Sentral Shopping Centre, Jalan Tun Sambathan, 50470 Kuala Lumpur. Also available at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur.
Daily, 10am-930pm. Tel: 03-2276-3293

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Viola Flower Cafe, Bukit Jalil

With a floral theme inspired by similar East Asian concepts, Viola Flower Cafe blooms with beauty, a photogenic space with a ceiling carpeted by natural dried flowers, encouraging customers to live life more slowly and savour their favourite moments.

True to those philosophies, Viola Flower Cafe shuns fast food, serving instead meticulously kitchen-crafted meals with both Japanese and Western underpinnings. Start with a selection of warm salads, perfect for patrons who seek a fix of fresh vegetables but might be turned off by cold food. The Gyu Kimchi Salada (RM17.80+) is a generous portion of Australian grass-fed sirloin beef, stir-fried with kimchi, cushioned with greens galore, garnished with goma and nori, dressed simply but satisfyingly with the savoury juices of the beef and the tang of kimchi. It's an entire nutritionally balanced meal even on its own, ideal for clean-eating occasions.

For fans of Japanese-inflected breakfasts and brunches, get happy with the Genki Breakfast (RM20.80+), an ensemble of Viola's own tamago roll, onigiri rice balls, chicken karaage, sautéed mushrooms, onions and salad. The fluffy egg rolls are uniquely stuffed with teriyaki tilapia, which might bear an uncanny resemblance to unagi in terms of both taste and texture for some customers - good-mood food, for certain, a refreshing change from the common Big Breakfast platters.

Fusion fun is also apparent in the playful Japanese-meets-Italian Salmon Mentai Miso Pasta (RM19.80+), a deserved bestseller here. The salmon is textbook-perfect - Viola sources whole salmon from the market, with the cafe's chef filleting the fish himself, so the salmon is never frozen. The result is glistening, glorious baked fish at its most luscious prime, with irreproachably crisp skin thinly glazed in subtly sweet-spicy, togarashi-tinged and ebiko-edged mentaiko sauce. The wafu-style pasta is well-executed too, almost an ode to carbonara in the richness of a sauce with the rousing fermented flavour of miso, rounded out with shimeji mushrooms and cherry tomatoes for extra dynamics of earthiness and sweetness. Take a seat and leisurely relish every bite, in contrast to today's increasingly grab-and-go food culture.

The Tori Cheesy Churros Burger (RM18.80+) is a tour de force of indulgence, reserved pleasurably for the guiltiest and most gluttonous of appetites. First off, Viola swaps burger buns for house-made churro discs, a sturdy structure for sandwiching a grilled chicken chop, egg, onions and tomatoes, less sugary than commercial churros, befitting a savoury recipe. The next twist emerges at the table, as a pan of hot melted cheese - mozzarella for texture, cheddar for taste, with bits of chicken skin for crisp - is poured over the burger, plus a sprinkling of seaweed. It's a behemoth of a burger, even without the fries and salad on the side, decadent enough for two customers to share.

With so many intriguing offerings on the menu, some patrons might find it difficult to decide what to eat. Viola has a simple Surprise Me solution to this common conundrum: Ask the friendly service crew for a dice, roll it, and a dish will be served to you according to the number on the dice. Customers will only know what's being served when it surfaces at the table; dietary restrictions will nonetheless be accommodated, so let the team know if you can't eat beef or hate broccoli.

If you're here for a catch-up session with family or friends, wrap up your visit to Viola with a sweet treat in this serene setting. Desserts here are a spectacle of whimsy, sure to conjure awwwws and smiles: The Unicorn Dream Parfait (RM15.80+) is a photogenic homage to the mythical creature, with rainbow-hued marshmallows for ears, a mini ice cream cone for a horn, and a golden, cinnamon churro loop as its majestic mane. Digging into the layers of raspberry ice cream, cornflakes, whipped cream and kitchen-made konnyaku jelly cubes is a delight, courtesy of the contrasting textures. A should-order for the young at heart.

In between lunch and dinner, Viola also serves a Japanese Afternoon Tea set (RM69.80+ per set, 3pm-6pm), suitable for two to three persons. The set includes four savoury temptations (signature egg roll, salted egg chicken popcorn, assorted onigiri, and pumpkin korokke), five sweet treats (matcha panna cotta, lemon mousse fruit tart, assorted macarons, assorted mochi, and snowslide lava cake) and a pot of flower tea of your choice. 

We managed to try the Snowslide Lava Cake - presented with a peculiar plastic collar of cream, we weren’t sure what to make of it initially (RM15.80+ on its own). Lifting the collar was a wow moment, with the white mascarpone cream gushing over the dark chocolate cake, living up to the dessert's moniker. Tasting this promises another unpredictable turn, as a salty kick from the cream balances out the richness of the cake. 

Beverages also beckon us in to escape from the hubbub outside: The Bonzai Latte (RM15.80+) is as creatively elaborate as everything else here, with a topping of cookie crumb soil, multi-coloured chocolate pebbles, and vividly green mint leaves creating the illusion of a potted plant. The latte itself is crafted with Brazilian beans for delicately nutty cocoa notes.

Speaking of coffee, Viola Flower Coffee is part of the Eat Drink KL Coffee Pass Subscription, which enables customers to enjoy a range of beverages at a reduced price. Click here to purchase your passes.

Other housekeeping notes: Viola Flower Cafe is housed in a complex with affordable parking of up to RM3 per day. Simply drive in and a camera will scan your vehicle's licence plate - when you exit later, just input your plate number at the autopay. There's a direct lift from the parking levels all the way up to Viola on the third floor, with the Mona Lisa bookstore as a nearby landmark.

All in all, Viola Flower Cafe is no shrinking violet, taking root firmly in terms of cafes to bookmark for exploration. Many thanks to the team here for having us.

Viola Flower Cafe
H-1-03, Jalan Jalil Utama 2, Pusat Bandar Bukit Jalil, 57000 Kuala Lumpur. Daily, 11am-930pm. Tel: 03-2733-5718

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