Cool isn’t a word that automatically comes to mind when describing Kuala Lumpur. The city is better known for its homegrown cuisine (curry laksa, anyone?) and heritage buildings — a railway station built in the Mughal architectural style, a Persian-influenced KLCC mosque — both made unique by the city’s multicultural DNA. But something new is adding even more texture to the Malaysian capital — away from Bukit Bintang’s touristy row of large malls and souvenir shops, pockets of decidedly contemporary establishments are popping up in the side streets all over the city. However far apart these new pockets of cool are, an unspoken agenda — to play, experiment and be adventurous — seems to bind them. Think inventive twists to cocktails; modern takes on comfort food; personal touches to fashionable items. The buzz these new places are creating is both attractive and contagious, and it’s giving us more reason to keep coming back.
Also read: Kuala Lumpur city guide
The first thing you’ll notice when you enter Pisco is that everyone is leaning in and actually talking, sometimes animatedly, to each other. Perhaps there’s the bar’s general look and feel to thank for the fact that people aren’t isolating themselves by gazing into their phones. Pisco is, to begin with, a nice, warm place that’s conducive to human interaction. Exposed red-brick walls display dramatic black-and-white images of Old Hollywood stars; multi-level wooden pallets line the ceiling and absorb noise; vintage pails used as pendant lights over the long bar are your first clue to the spirit of inventiveness that pervades the bar, from interiors, to menu, to bar list.
The bar is famous for its signature drink, the Pisco Sour (thus the name), a South American cocktail that uses pisco as a base liquor and citrus fruits as souring agents. Peruvian cuisine is also hot right now: Ferran Adrià is a fan, and Matsuhisa Nobu has said his years as a chef in the capital of Lima have informed his style. And Pisco is drawing a following of expats and locals who come for the Peruvian and Spanish tapas (empanadas and ceviche are among the favorites) and the regular events the bar organizes. There are DJ sessions on weekends featuring local and international DJs spinning house music, live music events featuring local artists, screenings of art-house films in partnership with the European and Latin American embassies on Tuesday nights, and the popular Lazy Sundays brunch.
For the latter, held on the last Sunday of every month, Pisco Bar transforms itself into a daytime playpen for grownups: comfortable bean bags are strewn all over the floor, an outdoor paellera (the newest on the menu is the seafood paella) and barbecue bar fill the air with delicious aromas, and boozy popsicles make for a refreshing way to cool down.
29 Jalan Mesui, off Jalan Nagasari; +60 3 2142 2900; piscobarkl.com
The spontaneity and color of Latin Americana are also a selling point in Fuego, a gorgeous restaurant made even prettier by glass floor-to-ceiling windows that offer a stunning view of the city’s most famous landmark, the Petronas Twin Towers. Here’s an experience you shouldn’t miss — sitting by one of Fuego’s window tables, sipping a mojito infused with lychee and chilli, or a burnt-lemon margarita, as the restaurant is bathed in the orange-purple glow of the setting sun.
Executive chef Christian Bauer’s playful takes on guacamole — with Avruga caviar, olive and capers or pickled prawn — make it high on the list of must-haves. Fun fact: Fuego uses a whopping 1,000 avocados every week to meet the demand. Another menu highlight you shouldn’t miss is the Fuego Coconut Ceviche, fresh cuts of barramundi with shiso gremolata served in a coconut shell. Big plates include servings of whole sea bream and grilled lamb ribs.
Level 23A, Tower B, The Troika, 19 Persiaran KLCC; +60 3 2162 0886; troikaskydining.com/fuego
Drift, which describes itself as a Modern Australian restaurant, embraces a casual-glam sensibility that we’ve come to associate with the Australian lifestyle. Finished with rich timber and warm, luminous lighting, it’s a cozy spot despite the sparkle and polish. High tables come with matching stools upholstered in red velvet. It’s a sensibility that extends even to the open dress code — whether you strut in in a little black dress or a smart shirt, or turn up in shorts and sandals, you’ll feel right at home here. The 25m backdrop by the bar depicts Robert Gilliland, the man behind Drift, whose creds include founding a media company and stints as a sommelier in Sydney and the Philippines — his eyes closed as he reclines in a bubble bath, in tux and tie.
But the real highlight of Drift is the food. Everything is handmade using the freshest ingredients, and chef Angus Harrison uses contrasting textures throughout the menu: the truffle mushroom arancini with parmesan and salad cream is a great example.
38 Jalan Bedara, Bukit Bintang; +60 3 2110 2079; driftdining.com
Dolly Dim Sum
We’d go anywhere for good dim sum, so anything else that it comes with — like pretty decorative birdcages repurposed as lamps — is a happy bonus. Dolly Dim Sum along Jalan Ampang is a trendy, modern take on the traditional Chinese teahouse, where savory and stuffed bite-sized delights are served with tea, and thanks to its easy-on-the-eye interiors, it recalls much of the spirit of teahouses of yore — a place where people talked over ideas, eating all the way.
For those who consider Chinese dishes comfort food, you’ll be happy to know that the restaurant serves classics — like prawn dumplings and siew mai — while jazzing up the menu with updated recipes. There’s also more filling fare like congee, stir-fried vegetables, egg noodles and, of course, three versions of fried rice (we won’t know what to do without our salted-fish fried rice). All these are served in pretty blue and white china.
Lot 9, G/F Avenue K, 156 Jalan Ampang; +60 3 2181 3830; dollydimsum.com
This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Smile magazine.