13 of my absolute faves for coffee, food, drinks and photography in Kuala Lumpur

Feel like a coffee, bite or a unique shot? I’ve got your back, folks! I know Malaysia is still knee deep in the lockdown, but let’s look on the bright side, shall we? The movement restrictions will end one day and then, I bet, ideas on where to quench thirst, fill your tummy up or simply enjoy the atmosphere will come in handy! That’s why I have compiled this list of my personal faves. It meant to be longer and more exhaustive but you know, it’s the same story over and over again – I didn’t get the chance to check all the places that I aimed to write about, then some places managed to disappoint me in the meantime and so they can’t naturally be included, add to it lockdowns, restrictions… Well, you get me, don’t you? Simply, a modest list must do, but it’s sure enough to whet your appetite. So friends, take your pens and let’s start!

Étoile… And a star was born!

Coffee cup, cream puf and a flower on a table
My way of starting the day in Étoile.

On top of my list features Étoile. This café is so great that I also toyed with the idea of devoting one whole post to this and only spot. No kidding, it really is that awesome. Clearly this is an incredible fresh starter on the KL’s café and dining scene and for all the good reasons.

A man and a woman sitting at a table at a cafe, enjoying conversation
Embodiment of elegance.

So what’s the charm that other places don’t have? Despite a certain degree of fanciness – and trust me I don’t indulge in fancy stuff – it’s just the way Étoile wraps it in an amazing elegance, which is unpretentious, unobtrusive and genuinely welcoming. You won’t feel inadequate here. This new star in KL dining is simply nonchalantly unique. In addition, leaving the beautiful decor and tastefully designed space aside, you can’t but notice the professionalism of the staff which I haven’t encountered anywhere else in Malaysia nor KL in the entire 6 years of my existence here. What’s more, it surprisingly improves even if you become a regular.

Avocado toast in focus
Yummy avocado toast.

Why is this surprising? Unfortunately my experience has been that once your turn up way too often in certain establishments, they start taking you for granted and gradually lower the quality of service/food/drinks offered to you. I’ve seen this so often that I could easily write a book about it. But Étoile is different. We have already convinced you about that, haven’t we? I’m pretty sure that the management hand-picked their staff carefully to make sure it’s top of class. And indeed – the service had a jaw-dropping effect on me. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s also the first and only cafe I know that serves coffee in large cups, a feature that’s practically impossible to find anywhere in KL or even Asia. Small cups rule the world these days and mug-lovers like me are left to hang in their lonely morning coffee orgies. Therefore, when I find a big king, I’m not going to think twice! I guess size does matter after all!

Close up of a front page of a magazine lain on a shelf at a café
When they have magazines to read, you know you are at the right place!

To sum up, from coffee, and food to pastries and beer, this café is a must try for anyone who enjoys modest elegance, decent prices and staff who know what they are doing – a combo otherwise virtually impossible to find in Malaysia. I keep coming for takeaway also during the lockdown because I simply can’t do otherwise.

Egg benedict in focus and a cup of coffee in the background
The style of service is uniquely inviting.

Mandala

Too bad I discovered this one so late. It’s definitely my go-to spot now for the best dumplings and other Nepalese delicacies. Everything I’ve tried so far was super scrumptious and had my taste buds dance tango. It’s fresh, clean, spicy, yummy. All the attributes food should have. But the momos, as Nepalese call their national version of dim sum, are simply to die for. Sipping beer while gorging up on pieces of this delight, and I guarantee your day can’t get any better! Give this Nepalese gem of a restaurant a chance and you won’t regret. Just remember that there’s no western toilet. But I would do anything for those dumplings and spicy veggie salad.

Nepalese momo dumpling in tomato sauce on a fork in focus
Do I need to say more?

Yut Kee Restaurant

Table and an open window in frame
Indochina style…

I originally went there for its famous pork roti babi. A blog post I read said it’s a bomb and another claimed it’s overrated. I had to see for myself. When it comes to roti babi, a Hainanese delight made of bread ‘pocket’ filled with pork, I’d incline towards the latter. But the chicken chop totally made up for it and quickly became my fave on their menu. Every bit on my plate was so juicy and tasty that I devoured it in a record time, almost ready to order another one. The added bonus was that it started raining heavily so it created a nice veil of romanticism à la Indochina. Nothing beats observing life in Asia, people come out and about while raindrops beat heavily down on the roofs and grounds around. It’s noisy, hot and humid and it has a charm I have been falling in love with this since I first set foot in this region. A truly amazing experience.

A piece of chicken chop on fork in focus with a plate of chicken chop, potatoes and veggies in blur
Juicy juicy, juicy…

Rasa Viet Bangsar South

Alright friends. I’ve got a big statement to make. The best food I’ve ever tasted was hands down in Hanoi. To this day I dream of the smart, healthy, creative options that were served on my plate in this attractive city. Have you noticed that Vietnamese are mostly slim? Throughout my trips in Vietnam I’ve never come across an overweight person. If I did, it must’ve been an irregularity. And I’m sure that they owe it to their diet. Plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, tasty meat which offers protein and almost no fat, crazy delicious broths that every professional chef could only dream about. Dear Lord, how I miss it! And amidst my frequent though silent outcries of missing Hanoi food I found a Vietnamese place in KL which not only came incredibly close to the original taste but its pho, bahn mi and avocado smoothie teleported me directly to Hanoi, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh all at once. And that my friends is no mean feat. I was in heaven.

Pho and an avocado smoothie on a table
Flash…Vietnam …Teleport…

Another asset of this place is its staff who went above and beyond to make sure I had a great experience. I’ve not managed to repeat my feast there, so I  couldn’t properly assess their attitude in the long term but even if the service wasn’t that great, which it really is, the food would pretty much be worth enduring it. I am actually salivating when writing this and I’d kill for that tasty trio now! Holy mishmash, this hurts a lot!

A close upof bahn mi Vietnamese sandwich
Bahn Mi….oh dear…may day, may day…

New World Thai Restaurant

I think I have been to this place more than 300 times. Maybe more. Hundreds, hundreds of times. There were weeks when I’d come 3 or 4 times in the span of 7 days. So what’s the pull? It’s currently the only place where I can get as close as it gets to the Thai taste I like. I wouldn’t say it’s the best Thai food I’ve had, because then I’d do disservice to Somtam, indeed the best Thai food I ever had. That used to be my notoriety. I ate there so often that they were ready to carve my name into the table I used to sit at. The only reason why I would miss a visit would be travel. The taste was unforgettable and no restaurant has ever managed to replace that. Simply none.  The owners knew me and they’d sometimes give me a complimentary bottle of beer. We also often chatted about life and stuff. It was great. Unfortunately though, they didn’t survive Covid-19. I’m seriously missing this place so much. Especially their panda leaf chicken. The best!

Table with plates of Thai food - Fried rice veggie, khailan garlic, pandan leaf chicken, chilli, lime
Somtam – dream of the past…

However, there’s no point advertising them now, as sadly, this is past. Luckily, in New World the taste, environment,  convenience are worth it too. It’s usually packed and it’s one of the most popular restaurants in Jalan Alor. I come because I always know what I’ll get. You might find this mental but 90% of the times I’ve eaten there, I ordered the same. Mango salad, khai lan garlic, fried rice veggie with egg, plenty of lime and chili and beer. Awesome. Crying my eyes out under a fierce attack of chili that I put into everything in large quantities is always definitely part of the fun. In addition, the load of vitamins I get with this favourite staple of mine gives me an incredible boost and a placebo effect. What’s more, the beer adds a nice zing to it. Simply, it never disappoints. Since my last post about this place nobody took me up on my challenge, I guess I’ll keep eating there on my own. Not that I mind!

Mango salad in focus with a beer bottle in blur
Mango salad ….yum!

Gavel

This place deserves mentioning especially for its incredibly creative, healthy and quite unique menu. I’d always come here for healthy couscous wraps for breakfast or late lunch. I’ve rarely seen couscous on menus here, so they definitely got me there. They also have a nice selection of yummy and healthy smoothies so it’s great to experience that in a glass for a change. Another thing I love about Gavel is its outdoor seating. Actually, most places that I mention here have this feature and it’s definitely part of the attraction. At least for me. KL is notorious for pushing life into air-conditioned shopping centres and spaces so finding spots like this is gold. At least to me. This is an aspect of life I’ve missed here and so you can’t blame me.

Couscous wrap and a glass of beer on a table in a restaurant with outdoor seating
Couscous wrap, my favourite. Though beer is in focus …oops:-)

Halab Beremi

I’ve been a regular in Halab since 2015. I am fond of Middle Eastern cuisine so it’s no surprise that Halab is a favourite place of mine. I always go to or order from Halab Beremi, the newer branch in Bukit Bintang. I switched to this branch because the food is fresher there, staff nicer and generally I find them more honest than the other branch close by. It’s funny, since it’s the same owner, and yet, they offer better services here. Plus of course, my favourite outdoor seating. This is irrelevant now but as a hummus addict I can confirm that this delight has always been served or delivered fresh to me. This can’t be said about the other branch where it was often recycled and in general I stopped going there because the service was not as good as in Beremi. To sum up, nothing beats their hummus, shawarma or grape leaves. Lentil soup is also always to die for and I’d find plenty of other delights worth mentioning on the menu. Enjoy when you go there!

Parsley salad, hummus and grape leaves on a table
The only photo I have, always too busy eating ….

Tapestry

For some inexplicable reason I only discovered many of the spots in this blog post recently. With Tapestry it’s even weirder since this is apparently one of the go-to cafés for KL crowds in the know. And yet, despite its proximity, I mean what the hell – I live around the corner – I only discovered it and couple months back. Guess necessity really is the mother of invention, or discovery in this case, as had it not been for the multiple lockdowns, I wouldn’t probably have ventured to this part of the city in search of a coffee and late breakfast spot.

Egg benedict
Oh how I liked this…

While I normally despise ‘trendy’ and ‘popular, I’m mentioning this place because I felt really comfortable there, their coffee tastes great (small cups though) and the eggs benedict, my all-time fave, was scrumptious. On top of that I struck up a conversation with another visitor there, so thumbs up. The only thing I don’t understand is their opening hours. From 7.30am to 4pm. I mean why would a popular café, which has wine on the menu by the way, close at 4pm? Guess it’s not up to me to solve mysteries like that. Just don’t come here between 12 and 2pm without any reservation and you should be fine.

Coffee cup, egg benedit, sun glasses show from above on a table
Inviting view, isn’t it?

Merchant’s Lane

This is an exposed place so I won’t be spilling the beans with this one either. Coffee is good, food mediocre at best but what about the ambience? Oh yes! That’s indeed the greatest pull. The decor, lighting and smart setting have made this place the ultimate instagrammable spot. And while I’d never go to a place in order to have a selfie/photo taken, I cut Merchant’s Lane some slack since their indoors is really worth it. I took a lot of shots (not of myself obviously) and left pretty much satisfied. Another bonus is that there are plenty of great restaurants in the vicinity so once you are done with your improvised photo shoots and coffee, you can save yourself the torture of eating here and surprise your taste buds in one of the nearby spots.

A woman in a rattan chair hung from the ceiling with a friend taking a shot of her.
Everyone wants a shot in this place.

Wildflowers

One of the places nearby you may try for food is Wildflowers. I like this restaurant because they have an interesting menu, Western and Asian fusion and mostly when I ordered I enjoyed the food. Other pluses are friendly staff, outdoor seating and a good selection of beers. My style really only that the portions could be a bit bigger.

A meal with rice and beer on a table
It was quite tasty.

Timothy’s Breakfast

OK, I’ll start this one with a brutal statement – they served me the worst food I ever had in the whole Malaysia. Seriously! Despite this, the restaurant is always packed during lunch time and people photograph the bland contents of their plates like lunatics. Talk to me about the herd mentality, I guess. ‘It tastes like shit, but it’s popular, so why not?’ That’s the only reason I can think of why it’s full during peak hours. ‘So why on earth am I even mentioning it?’ I can hear you wonder. I understand your confusion. Well, it’s the coffee and decor that I like here. Simple rustic style and the ice mocha is always really good. I’m a mocha addict and unlike with the food they never disappointed me on this one. Plus it’s nice for taking shots here too. I would always come here after long strolls in the city with my camera and sip my dose of ice mocha while going through photographic catches of the day. Then I’d retire home and have a sleepless night – a self-evident punishment for drinking coffee after 8pm.

Ica mocha on a table with a wooden cutlery care next to it
I come here for this only.

Mingle Cafe

Similarly to Timothy’s I often come here for the decor and ambiance. The old school style of this cafe, friendly staff and my favourite spot to sit and observe the life are the biggest pull. And of course the fact that it’s in Chinatown! Coffee and cakes taste good here too but I can’t comment on food.

A chair and a table at a rustic style cafe
My style. Hi Chair!

Mantra

And my muse Mantra concludes this selection of my personal faves in KL. Mantra has always been high on the list of places I enjoy going to for three main reasons – tasty 1664 Blanc draft, super friendly staff and a pleasant view. My readers and followers for sure know, don’t they? It would often rain during my visits which would add to its romanticism. What’s more I met a lot of people there, took even more shots and always created long-lasting memories. I’ll always cherish Mantra as one of the best and yet least pretentious rooftop bars in KL. When the lockdown ends, don’t forget to try them. Their happy hour deals are very cool!

A glass of wine in blur with a man and a woman sitting at a table in the background
Memories must suffice now.

Here you go friends. If you are not thirsty, hungry or both after getting here, then I must reasonably suspect there’s something seriously wrong with you. So hopefully you are a normal human being and you will try some of these spots once the madness of Covid -19 subsides and streets start beaming with life again. And if you do, do me a favour and remember me while munching on some of the delicacies or sipping a drink of your choice. Do we have a deal?  

 

17 thoughts on “13 of my absolute faves for coffee, food, drinks and photography in Kuala Lumpur

  1. Aw, we love Asia. We visited KL couple of years ago and had a lovely time. Will have to visit some of the places next time. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Love your travel posts! They take me places sitting at my own home. We recently took a family vacation after 18 months and it felt so good

  3. The food you’re showcasing here, is making me want to jump on a plane and fly right there – can’t wait for things to open up again.

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