All that Glitters….
Brand KL seems to be percolating something new every few months. There are a great number of exciting things that have been happening in the last couple of years, like the River of Life project by Pemandu and DBKL (city hall), the activation of Medan Pasar by Think City & DBKL, and the popping up of new cafes and speak easy bars such as PS150 and Merchant Lane. Further afield, in Bukit Tunku and Sentul, you have Tommy Le Baker, The Kenny Hill Bakers and Three Little Birds. Then in Bangsar and Damansara Heights in Jalan Batai you have Pulp, Dr.Inc and the rejuvenated Jalan Batai shophouses which all seem to be booming. KL is suddenly trendy again with a new aesthetic, largely influenced by Australian graduates hankering for their slice of Melbourne (or Sydney) in KL.
The design and the feel of these places are definitely worthy of being included in the pages of Monocle, Flow or any trendy ID magazine. The aesthetic is young and fresh and even the grimy has been elevated to hipster status. The service is full of young energetic hip looking students or fresh grads who are refreshingly interested in their jobs and can speak English. After many bad experiences of being served by migrant workers who don’t speak English this is very good news indeed.
Feeling happy that KL is now a worthy contender in the global cafe culture world, you sit down and start to dig in and savour the food. The experience ranges from the sublime to the subpar. The great ones, serve high quality food and beverage, all in a lovely chilled atmosphere. But more and more I am seeing the emergence of new places which look fabulous dishing out underwhelming food experiences. At the beginning, you start to doubt your taste buds, saying to yourself- no surely it can’t be, but they look so good and I feel so comfortable sitting here. Plus they are listed on KL’s top 10 cafes. They have to taste good! And KL needs this, so we must be supportive!!! And so you will yourself to like the food, the over priced brownie, or the choux pastry that really is not, the sour coffee which the barista assures you is the new trend in coffee before he/she starts going on and on about the wonders of light roasts, the higher acidity and so on.
So with your head slightly drooped, you go back to your table and try to convince yourself that despite your multitude cups of coffee from the best cafes, you are now a coffee ignoramus, clueless of the sweeping trend. I’d like to call this trend – the ‘I have gone to barista school, I roast my own coffee and so I am an expert in both coffee and food’ movement. It seems to me, the better the place looks, the more average the culinary quality. And so, after subjecting myself to months of Pollyanna-ism, I have decided to retreat back to the grimy, the less shiny places which have great food and GREAT COFFEE. And I have stopped believing in top 10 lists.
But this journey for Brand KL is all about Balance. And I am sure with every new great looking cafe/restaurant, there is a great tasting new place nearby. And then you remind yourself that the best eating places with the most sublime food have traditionally been in shabby looking places. Places like Jai Hin in Jalan Melayu, Wong Ah Wah in Jalan Alor, the Shakti Cello appam stall in Lucky Garden, to name a few. This seems to sum up the city – it may not look its best, it may be a bit grimy and neglected in places, but the experiences may often surprise you – and that’s the great thing about KL.