Madam Kwan’s – Kuala Lumpur, MY

Madam Kwan’s
Unit 1.16, The Pavilion Kuala Lumpur
168 Jalan Bukit Bintang
Kuala Lumpur 55100, Malaysia
+603 2118 8833 (main mall)

Observing people easing into a new cuisine that they are unfamiliar with is an interesting study in personality. Some will boldly leap into a hot dish without hesitation, seeking that thrilling, first time experience of new flavors and a jolt to their mundane eating experiences. Others will meekly play with their utensils and anxiously pick away at the foreign food on their plate, and look around as if hoping someone will bring them something they are much more comfortable eating. Do you fit one of these profiles?

Some restaurants are very good at helping neophytes to ethnic cuisine, by introducing menu items that are generally mild in nature and visually appealing. Usually this will comprise staple dishes that have been proven to be popular among Westerners, be it in the native country or in North America, with the intent to appeal to a wide audience. To help accomplish this, businesses will often tend to invest in a more refined dining environment (location, design, etc.). As such, simple dishes that one could find in more “local” spots or even on the street (though vendors, etc.), are often more expensive than they should be – or cost more than a native would find normally acceptable – with the debate of which is better in terms of quality, also wide open.

Madam Kwan’s to me, fits this description. Taking up locations in Kuala Lumpur within major shopping centres (Mid Valley Megamall, Suria KLCC, and The Pavilion), this operation has established their outlets where heavy foot traffic is guaranteed, as well where many foreigners are known to visit. With a spacious, clean interior, featuring tables on the open floor as well as some more secluded dining rooms for larger groups/parties, Madam Kwan’s offers what it calls “Truly Malaysian Cuisine”, featuring dishes such as Hainanese Chicken Rice, Nasi Lemak, Fish Head Curry, Laksa, and desserts such as Cendol, etc. It also tends to be a popular place for the locals, who are out and about, perhaps shopping in these centres, as they have always been boisterous whenever I’ve passed by or eaten in.

I thought this dish, the Nasi Bojari, is one of the most popular items on the menu, judging from scans of other tables on two occasions, and would be a safe bet for those new to Malaysian cuisine to try. It features a large lump of fragrant rice on a banana leaf, surrounded by a sampling of Beef Rendang, a fried chicken drumstick, Assam Prawns, slices of veg (cucumber, tomato), and half boiled egg. In terms of proportion, it is quite large (even for a hungry adult male). The spicy Assam Prawns are my favorite item on this plate, whereas the chicken thigh is not overly exciting (not bad though), and the Beef Rendang perhaps a tad dry for my liking, though its clearly soaked up the coconut milk and spices that is was cooked in. The price was about 20 Ringgits, which is a notable premium over the street hawker version of this same dish.

I am sure the more adventurous among us will cringe at the thought of places like Madam Kwan’s that are “selling out”. I’m among them for sure, with this place being a safety blanket whenever I am taking a finicky newbie to Malaysia out to try some “local” food. I suppose places like this do have value, if it helps appease a diner that I am stuck with for the night, and has a lot of dislikes when it comes to food, but when I still want to avoid the dreaded hotel restaurants. If I’m on my own, I’d rather hit some back alley or side street, getting my meal cooked up in the humid conditions of KL, by some middle aged man wearing an undershirt and sweating profusely while standing near the hot wok. Sound appetizing, perhaps not. But I guarantee the food does! And it will hit your wallet a lot softer than the pristine, air conditioned, modern designed restaurants of the city.  Which generally means, more meals for me. 🙂

Dragon View Restaurant – Kuala Lumpur, MY

Dragon View Restaurant
82 Jalan Ipoh
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
+603 4044 4944

Being in SE Asia, I’ve learned that carrying an umbrella is a must.  I suppose in some ways, its much like Vancouver.  While out searching for a place to eat with some friends in Malaysia, the downpour came suddenly and we scattered into a nearby building that had open doors and ready for business.  Luckily, it was a place that some of them knew.  In that way, I suppose we were lucky in that it was not a complete tempting of restaurant Russian roulette.

The menu at Dragon View Restaurant was pretty standard Cantonese fare.  Based on some suggestions by my dining partners, our meal consisted of some meat, noodles, and soup.  It seems that whenever I dine with these fellows, this is the pattern we follow. 

As you can see, the interior is nothing outstanding, as food takes precedent over any atmosphere here.  I think the nearby food stalls on the sidewalk just behind me where I took this image, were more exciting as far as appearance goes.  Too bad they were deluged with water, as I think I would have rather gone there.

These pork dumplings in soup were the first to arrive at our table.  The dumplings were quite large, more than an easy mouthful.  The soup was flavorful, despite being quite light in nature.  With the rain falling down outside, it was a nice warm start to our late lunch.

This plate of noodles and barbecue pork actually came out on two separate plates – the image was taken after I had dumped the meat on top of the noodles.  It was how I was instructed to eat it.  The noodles were a thin variety and not overly cooked.  The slices of pork were from various cuts, some more tender and fattier than others.  The sauce was a thicker sweet one, which went well with the barbecue pork, and wrapped around the noodles easily.  I could have easily eaten more than what was on this single plate all by myself.

The large plate of barbecue duck was the main part of the meal.  Frankly, I don’t really sense a great deal of difference where I eat this dish, as I think its fairly consistent between ethnic Chinese communities is various parts of the world.  As one would expect, it did have an assortment of pieces, which I am sure everyone has their personal preference on when it comes to the leaner or fattier pieces.

These kinds of impromptu restaurant visits are something that I often do, but on this occasion, the direction was given by Mother Nature.  Should I blame her for a rather ordinary meal?  Well, perhaps.  It certainly did nothing to excite my taste buds, as its all stuff I have had many times before, in many different places.  My food odyssey in this part of the world continues…

Food Republic – SG and Kuala Lumpur, MY

Food Republic
@ Wisma Atria, 4th Floor                  @ The Pavilion, 1st Floor
435 Orchard Road                             168 Jalan Bukit Bintang
Singapore                                         Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: +65 6235 8177                         Tel: +603 2118 8833

As interesting and refreshing a change that food courts in Asian shopping complexes are in the lower mainland, they still pale in comparison to the variety and options that exist in lands across the Pacific. As I’ve just found out that I need to travel again to Southeast Asia next month (the second time in six months), I thought I’d get into the right frame of mind as I prepare to hit the city state of Singapore and neighboring Malaysia, both of which have a diverse range of food offerings that I am looking forward to exploring again. The following is a recollection of some simple meals that I had this past spring in the Food Republic food courts, that are located in two of the largest shopping complexes in both countries.

While sweating in the humid weather of Singapore, despite it being the later evening, my friend and I were looking for a quick meal after a busy day of shopping. We settled on the Wisma Atria shopping centre, which houses the Food Republic food court on its top floor, as it was close to the Orchard MRT station that he was going to use to return home. The Food Republic is a mix of about ten hawker-style stalls, including some pushcarts, that sell an assortment of Singaporean/Chinese/Malaysian dishes. Seating is arranged throughout the space, but when it is busy, you will have a long wait in trying to get an empty seat. Each mini restaurant operates as a stand alone enterprise, so you pay at each stall for your choices – no messy ticket system here as you might find in similar open concept food courts.

After doing a few laps scouting out the edible delights, as well as trying to find an empty table to save, I finally settled on some hand cut noodles paired with some pan fried dumplings. It was the show that grabbed my attention, as I spotted the man behind a panel of glass in his small booth, rythmically hacking off slivers with a steel blade from a large brick of dough held in his other hand, shooting them directly into a massive wok filled with hot water to cook them. Nearby, a woman was busy prepping the bowls with a hearty chicken-based soup and assorted toppings – a crunchy and salty flavored mound of little dried fish was my favorite! The dumplings were made of a slightly thicker wrap, making for a very crispy but chewy covering, though the ball of meat inside was perhaps a little less flavorful than I would have hoped. I assumed these were not being freshly made in the back and were of the restaurant supply, frozen variety.

My Singaporean host finished off his meal by saying he was getting a “dessert”. He tried describing it to me as a vegetable and fruit concoction making it a unique combination of flavors in one single bowl. Now I love the combination of peanuts and sweet sauce, so upon first glance, it looked really appealing. I just had it in the back of my mind though, that there was no way it was a dessert. I think my friend was just trying to trick me into having another unique dish called Rojak, while we were hanging out together that night. I’m not sure that I fully enjoyed this dish, as the mix of ingredients seemed a bit odd to me even for a salad. Perhaps its an acquired taste, so I am open to having it again on my upcoming trip.

The same week that I was in Singapore, I spent time in Kuala Lumpur as well – a short 45 minute plane ride away. My accommodations were located directly across the street from the relatively still brand new, shopping complex known as The Pavilion. This was indeed a high end mall, filled with all of the top brands you could imagine, as well as a massive food court that occupied most of the first floor of the building. Here, the Singaporean Food Republic conglomerate had created another food carnival for busy shoppers (locals and tourists alike) much to my delight.

There were a lot more choices at this Pavilion edition though, simply due to greater available floor space. A few times for lunch, I stopped by to grab an easy meal again, as the more proper restaurants in the complex were a little out of my daily budget range, and when I didn’t have much time to explore further geographically from where I was for work purposes. I had to sample another basic soup noodle dish, which I did, but the noodles in this case were of a more skinnier variety.  It was what it was, simple in flavor with its thin broth for a low price.

On another occasion, I had it in my mind that I needed to sample some satay while I was in Malaysia. The basic plate of three skewers (your choice of beef or chicken) came with a generous portion of fried rice, and a fried egg. As this was going to be nowhere enough for my hungry appetite on this day, I ordered another batch. I found it interesting that much like places in Vancouver that serve satay, they require you to order a certain number when placing an order, a minimum of five in most cases.

There were other food and restaurant tenants not associated with the Food Republic as well, sharing the same area. My Malaysian friends suggested we do a small stop at Madam Kwan’s. Here we had a Cendol dessert, essentially made up of a scoop of shaved ice that is mixed with these green colored noodles and sweetened with coconut milk and sugar. One of my hosts told me a story of how he had this virtually every day as a child when he came home from school, as he’d get a free bowl of it from an Indian street vendor in his neighborhood who would start giving it away as the ice started to melt faster than he could maintain it towards the end of each day. He also remarked that those making it on the streets are declining in number.

Without a doubt, there are a lot of excellent and very reasonably priced restaurants offering the best of cuisine found in Singapore in Malaysia – some of which I’ve had the pleasure of dining in and could potentially write about in the future here on Foodosophy. But for some reason, I am drawn to the street food vendors risking my well being in the process, as well as the more comfortable airconditioned and low priced environments that food courts have to offer. As I noted at the beginning, these food courts are amazing – with the range and quality of food found in these places easily beating those in many ethnic restaurants back home in Canada, and for a fraction of the price.  I can’t wait to get back!

Bon Ton Restaurant – Kuala Lumpur, MY

[As with all of our posts, please click on any image for an enlarged view]

Bon Ton Restaurant
No. 8 Jalan Conlay
Kuala Lumpur 50450, Malaysia
Mon~Sat 12pm to 12am
Holidays 6pm to 12am
Sun open for private events only

Billing itself as a “resort home in the heart of the city… simple yet stylish, a fine yet affordable place to wine, dine and entertain”, the Bon Ton Restaurant served just that very purpose for an informal dinner that I had with some external business partners and colleagues in Malaysia’s capital city. After spending too many hours in meetings rooms and hotels, it was nice to get out and stretch our legs with an energizing walk to this establishment, located not too far from the famed KLCC.

Bon Ton does have a decent premise, with its mix of “old & new, east & west”, quite fitting for this city with a huge ethnic mosaic and growing influence in the region thus drawing in visitors from across Asia and other parts of the world alike. The menu itself followed this trend, with both contemporary and traditional takes on Asian and Western dishes, and a wine list (not overly extensive) that relied more on the New World (much to the delight of two of our dining companions from Australia). Various set courses could be had, but all of us opted to go with a starter and main course, which quite frankly was filling and more than enough for me. I had decided to go with a not overly challenging Roasted Eggplant & Potato Soup, to get my appetite going. Hard to screw that up and they didn’t so as I was engrossed in the coversation and taking my share of a few bottles of wine, I was off to a good start, albeit it was not a completely social occasion so some of the joy of dining was not there for me.

Scanning the room after we’d been there for about 15-20 minutes, it was then that I realized that this Thursday night (around 7:30pm-8:00pm) was not going to be a busy night for the restaurant as I only saw two other tables of two that were taken up (our party of seven was seated at a longer rectangular table in the middle of the floor). Later on though, a larger group than ours of about twelve came in and were seated at a similar style of table to ours a few feet behind us. No other guests came in during the three or so hours we were there.

Returning to my main, I elected to stick with my quest to eat as much seafood as I could on this Asia journey, and chose the very bountiful Seafood Platter. It was comprised of gratinated fish fillet, sweet “Japanese” baby octopus, tumeric scallops, steamed mussels with ginger sauce, grilled prawns, dragon fruit salad, and parsley rice, all arranged on a single round plate. I recall that the scallops were nice and plump and well cooked and seasoned, the baby octopus was just too sweet for my tastes in some kind of honey-like glaze, the mussles a bit tiny and too dried out, fish fillet just average, as were the prawns. So essentially one for five in terms of the seafood items satisfying my craving on this night, which did not bode well for my thoughts on this place. If not for the glasses of nicely chilled white wine I was consuming, I don’t think I would have been in such a good mood. The others at my table had gone more for the meats on the menu, such as some roasted chicken and barbequed rack of lamb. I didn’t hear any complaints from them, so afterwards was thinking I should have gone the same route. Only one fellow had room for dessert, I think it was some kind of biscuits, ice cream and berry sauce. He polished it off nicely, so must have been satisfied.

Overall, the room fit with our needs on that night, a relaxed mood where there was no pressure to leave after two hours, attentive service with the wine (of which we had many bottles), and a nice end to a busy work day. I think any busier place would have just added to the continuation of us having to be mentally “on”, whereas on this night it was just fine to be in a quieter, less busy restaurant. With four nations being represented at the table, the varied menu seemed to work for everyone, though it resulted in a more Western skew in terms of choices for most. So obviously not the best scenario for dining, when you are in such a diverse and interesting food culture such as Malaysia, but this was the hand that was drawn for this particular occasion, with this group, and on this night. For those with similar conditions to work with, Bon Ton might work for you, but otherwise I would make a call and go to a more truly Malaysian food experience if you find your way to Kuala Lumpur.