Dining in KL: It's a mushrooming scene

I went out of town for just two weeks at the end of last year, and returned home to find five new chic restaurants having opened within metres of each other in the Bangsar neighbourhood.

There’s a modern-looking seafood specialist, a no-nonsense steakhouse and a French bistro, among the new entrants. Bangsar has become a magnet for chi-chi restaurants in recent years but even so, five intwo weeks is startling.Curious about this sudden wealth of dining options, I did a search on Malaysia’s food blogs and discovered that new restaurants have been mushrooming rapidly, and not just in Bangsar. The suburb of Section 17in Petaling Jaya also seemed to have a new-found wealth of restaurants, as well as the arty new Publika mall.Even Mr Sean Yoong, who writes the Eat Drink KL blog which is updated daily with a new restaurant, has found it hard to keep up with the new openings.“The pace of restaurant openings is breakneck now, more so than ever, with at least two or three very worthwhile restaurants opening every week,” he said.He believes it could be due to fiercer competition having led to more discerning tastebuds and demand for higher standards, more innovative fare and nicer restaurants.But he noted that KL still lagged behind Singapore and Hong Kong, as new outlets still tend to play it safe with crowd-pleasing café food rather than gambling on riskier fare.

“The KL dining scene is still evolving,” he said.Still, there are some signs of adventure with interesting new outlets like Dining in the Dark in Changkat Bukit Bintang where diners eat in a completely darkened hall served by visually-impaired staff. Thedarkness is intended to heighten the tastebuds.

While this concept was pioneered in cities like London, it created some buzz when it arrived in KL that has hitherto not been known to be experimental..The latest craze is, however, a taste for skyhigh restaurants with a view of the Petronas Twin Towers. The higher the floor, the higher the prices, so it seems. It started with the swish Marini’s on 57 located on the 57th floor of the third Petronas tower in KLCC, and was soon followed by a whole clutch of other restaurants opening in the same vicinity.Mr Eddie Chew, a partner in the Troika Sky Dining group which opened three restaurants in the city last year, said it is the suburban areas that are benefiting from this new boom in restaurants.“It could be because of the traffic issue, or just people discovering that they enjoy being closer to home than in the city,” he said.He added that the restaurant business attracts many newcomers because it seems fun. To him, the competition isn’t of real concern as his restaurants occupy a specific niche in the fine dining category.Their outlets are small and intimate, and the four owners try to be adventurous in introducing new types of food and wine. They now have two restaurants serving French and Italian food, and a wine bar indowntown KL.

“We try to have more of a personal touch, something that we have seen on our travels and hope to bring back here,” he said, joking that they are always in the restaurants as they literally live above the shop.The outlets are located on the 24th floor of the swish Troika condominium.

By the middle of this year, they are planning to add a new Spanish grill, champagne bar and one more restaurant.It appears that the boom in new chic restaurants has some way to go yet, to the delight of KL residents.