These five restaurants are celebrating the country’s native ingredients and rich culinary traditions in fresh new ways.
With a name that means “above” in Malay, this casual-chic restaurant at The RuMa hotel offers elevated takes on the local fare that are as refined as its setting. Inside an open kitchen backed by a wall of Royal Selangor pewter tiles, young Canadian chef Tyson Gee uses seasonal produce gathered from around the Malay Peninsula in his modern creations. A gourmet version of the Peranakan pai tee pastry features crème fraiche and Malaysian caviar; the jasmine rice salad dressed in crispy chicken skin, spring onion, sesame, and homemade XO sauce is a Chinese riff on the Malay herbed rice dish nasi ulam. Pungent buah keluak (a prized black nut) lends its characteristic depth and earthiness to corn-fed chicken with okra and fermented chili sauce. Leave room for dessert; Gee’s Pahang single-origin dark-chocolate crumble finds a worthy counterpoint in sorbets and ice creams with tropical flavors like jackfruit and roselle (The RuMa Hotel and Residences, 7 Jl. Kia Peng; 60-3/2778-0888).
The sophomore restaurant by chef Raymond Tham, who first set tongues wagging with his mod-European eatery Skillet At 163 in the same building, Beta KL promises a bold, contemporary approach to Malaysian cuisine. Amuse-bouches inspired by the northern states of Kelantan and Terengganu kick off a cross-country culinary journey in the Tour of Malaysia set menu, with almost 80 percent of the ingredients—such as Perak sturgeon and salt from Sarawak’s Kelabit Highlands—locally sourced. For meat lovers, the wagyu with roasted garlic puree and bak kut teh reduction is one of the best fine-dining renditions of the Klang delicacy you will ever come across, while seafood aficionados should not miss the decadent chili crab custard. Yielding chunks of ocean-fresh crabmeat, it’s reminiscent of a Japanese chawanmushi but with a topping of sweet-spicy foam (Fraser Place, 10 Jl. Perak; 60-3/2181-2990).
Borneo Restaurant & Bar
This homey months-old venue in the hip Bangsar neighborhood takes the indigenous ingredients of Sabah and Sarawak and glams them up for an international audience. Must-tries include the olive-fed pork satay marinated in Sarawak palm sugar and served with velvet tamarind gravy, as well as the indulgent kolo mee, or lard-coated dry wheat noodles featuring pork done three ways: minced with fat, skewered and grilled, and doused in fermented soybean paste before being deep-fried. Other signatures include the fried cangkuk manis topped with a soy-cured egg yolk for a balance of subtle bitterness and umami flavor, and mushroom pasta dressed in the rich, buttery oil of the rare engkabang fruit sourced from the Sarawak rain forest. The restaurant also stocks one of the widest varieties of Bornean tuak (rice wine) in town; its tuak flights showcase six brews from a changing roster of small-batch producers (11 Jl. Telawi 3, Bangsar; 60-3/2859-0490).
Tucked inside a recently opened downtown mall, the first restaurant by TV personality and cookbook author Redzuawan Ismail—more affectionately known as Chef Wan—reflects his cheery, flamboyant personality with electric-blue chairs and wall-to-wall prints of peacocks and tropical foliage. The menu here focuses mainly on modern Malay cuisine, showcasing lesser-known dishes such as the Terengganu specialty kerabu pucuk paku: a fiddlehead fern salad tossed with torch ginger, toasted coconut, succulent cockles, and prawns in a sweet, savory, and spicy sauce. Braised New Zealand lamb takes center stage in the Kelantan-style kambing kuzi, which harnesses many of the same spices found in Thailand’s massaman curry, while premium Australian beef stars in the heady Selangor rendang. The desserts here are also a treat: go for the bubur som som, a silky Indonesian rice-flour pudding topped with coconut milk and cinnamon-infused palm sugar (The Linc KL, 360 Jl. Tun Razak; 60/10-207-0383).
Enfin by James Won
Charismatic chef James Won might be better known for cooking some of the best French cuisine in Kuala Lumpur—as evinced by his status as the sole Malaysian member of champagne house Krug’s Ambassade network—but the latest degustation menu (paired with a Krug Grand Cuvée) at his stylish, wood-paneled restaurant gives local hawker fare the fine-dining treatment. Inspired by curry laksa and half-boiled eggs, a Malaysian breakfast staple, Won balances an “egg white” of parmesan tofu with a delicate “yolk” of sea urchin, curry emulsion, and mandarin. The chef also pays tribute to his Hakka heritage by reinventing the popular dish yong tau foo: expect a steamed red chili stuffed with duck fat–cooked tofu and mushroom, placed on a green mole that packs the punch of salted fish, bonito, and fermented chili. Another standout is the five-spice Bidor duck breast; sourced from a small Perak town, it’s served with Ipoh white-coffee sauce and yam gnocchi in a nod to the suan pan zi dumplings of Malaysia’s Hakka community (Menara Hap Seng, 1 Jl. P. Ramlee; 60/10-288-7920).
This article originally appeared in the October/November 2019 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Malaysia on the Menu”).