Eat Drink KL: The Chow Kit Kitchen & Bar

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Chow Kit Kitchen & Bar

If downtown KL had a beating heart, Chow Kit might form its arteries. And if this neighbourhood's centrepiece hotel had a soul, The Chow Kit Kitchen & Bar would be its life force.

The Chow Kit - An Ormond Hotel has been open for exactly a year, but it's still evolving - its flagship restaurant recently revamped its repertoire, with a Malaysian-minded menu that now spans pegaga salad to pulut panggang udang, bergedil to botok botok, chilli crab to claypot curry fish head, satay to sotong bakar.

Its most charming creations are communal, a reminder this year that savouring a meal with our favourite people shouldn't be taken for granted. The Chow Kit Kitchen & Bar's new platters and family sets are built for sharing in a beautifully timeless setting - fringed with the hotel's modern lobby on one side and a classic staircase wall on the other, lined with photos of pink minibuses from decades gone by, P. Ramlee movie posters and vintage advertisements for men's hair products.

As we arrived, a bustling Monday lunch crowd of white-collar workers were finishing their meals. While we lingered, other guests strolled leisurely in and out, taking snapshots of the ambience-blessed space and hanging out as gentle music with good vibes played in the background. And when we finally left, the cocktail cliques were trickling in, eager to chill in one of the city centre's most elegantly atmospheric hotel destinations.

For two or three guests, the top temptation is A Taste Of Chow Kit, a rice platter encircled by seven small plates and sambal (RM130). Head chef Juwahir Mustafa, fondly known as Chef Ell, ensures this lives up to its name - the rice relies on herbs and vegetables purchased fresh from Chow Kit's own wet market, transformed into an aromatic, banana leaf-wrapped nasi ulam mixed with long beans, torch ginger, wild betel, lemongrass and more. Seafood is sourced from a little farther away but still well within our shores, specifically Sekinchan.

Chef Ell, who began professionally cooking at 17, harnesses more than two decades of experience for an ensemble that does justice to Malaysian cuisine's rich, bold flavours and memorable, mouthwatering textures. 

Customers can choose three types of meat and poultry, two seafood specialities, and two vegetables.

Our Ayam Kampung Emas was golden indeed, featuring free-range chicken with a crisp bite and lean chew, while the Daging Salai Masak Lemak and Kambing Kuzi brought out the robust best in impressively tender beef and succulent lamb.

The recipes might look rustic, but they're masterfully crafted - the smoked beef swims in curry that's thick with coconut milk, tinged fragrantly with turmeric leaves and terung pipit, while the lamb shoulder is beautifully braised with five-spice, studded with cashews and black raisins. Another option is Rendang Daging, if you want to make this a red-meat feast.
For seafood, time-honoured traditions shine in the Sambal Udang, plump with juicy tiger prawns in luscious house-made sambal, and Ikan Assam Pedas, with smooth golden pomfret made sultrily tangy in tamarind broth with ladies' fingers, ginger flowers and laksa leaves. Botok Botok Ikan and Sotong Bakar are the other seafood possibilities.

Pucuk Paku and Kacang Botol are two familiar, well-executed vegetables, stir-fried with anchovies or dried shrimp paste respectively, but what captured our imagination was the Gulai Pisang - young bananas of almost yam-like dense creaminess, cooked in a mild coconut broth, completely comforting. 

A Taste of Chow Kit is completed with Sambal Merah and Sambal Hijau, both lively and lovely. You can even take home bottles of these house-made, preservative-free sambal flavours, as well as Sambal Belacan and Sambal Hijau Ikan Masin, at RM16 per bottle.

If you're here in a family of four, indulge in one of The Chow Kit Platters - From The Sea (RM220) showcases char-grilled fish, squid, tiger prawns and clams, all netted daily from Sekinchan too, marinated in local herbs and spices; From The Land (RM210) is all about carnivorous prime meat, comprising barbecued village chicken and spare beef ribs, plus grilled satay and lamb chops; Best of Both Worlds (RM250; our choice) brings together both sides of the story for surf-and-turf satisfaction.

Note: One of the Chow Kit Platters will also be part of the hotel's upcoming Meat for Happy Hour weekend promotion, which combines the From The Land platter with all-day happy hours.  

The Chow Kit Kitchen & Bar's friendly team will help you carve this out.

We're still dreaming about the Barbecued Spare Ribs, which banishes memories of tough, chewy ribs. The meat is achingly moist, nearly like beef cheeks that have been slow-cooked to melting perfection, packing deep, dark bovine flavours in layers of gelatinous flesh, laced with galangal and star anise for a peppery-sweet uplift. If you love beef, you'll adore this.

The Barbecued Ayam Kampung is a bit outshone by the beef, but if your preference is poultry, sink your teeth into nothing less than a whole bird, savoury with a coconut percik glaze that evokes peninsular Malaysia's east coast.

Edging closer to our country's south is the Whole Seabass or Red Snapper - 800 to 1,000 grams of flaky wild-caught fish, fabulously grilled in banana leaves, like the finest ikan bakar in the city. The Grilled Squid with turmeric and daun cekur glaze makes it a smoky wrap, paired with addictive air assam and heaps of nasi ulam that round out the platter.

The second component of The Chow Kit Kitchen & Bar earns our affection with cocktails worthy of KL's most popular bars. The Chow Kit (RM35; Matusalem Platino rum and Aperol with lemon juice, house-made lemongrass liquor and maple syrup) and Gin Dynasty (RM35; Hendrick’s with cucumber juice, jasmine, lime juice, egg white and bitters) make us feel like staying longer than we should - fittingly, for a restaurant that strives to make guests feel genuinely at home.

Many thanks to The Chow Kit Kitchen & Bar for having us.

The Chow Kit Kitchen & Bar
The Chow Kit - An Ormond Hotel, 1012, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Chow Kit, 50100 Kuala Lumpur, Daily, 7am-11pm. Tel: 03-2778-6666

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