Friday, August 18, 2017

Dining with the devil in Kuala Lumpur

I normally don’t head for shopping centres when I think of fine dining. In fact, one of my least favourite activities in the world is eating at noisy shopping mall food courts.

The Central Market in Kuala Lumpur is sort of like a shopping mall and sort of not, and it sort of has a food court and sort of does not. In the face of these ambiguities, whenever I’m in KL and feeling peckish, I find myself heading for the market even when I’m not in the mood to shop for gaudy kites or brightly painted wooden masks to hang on my wall.

My destination? A restaurant on the mezzanine floor known as Precious Old China, specialising in Malaccan Nonya food, which contains influences from Chinese, Malay, Portuguese, Dutch and English cuisines.

The décor is nothing short of amazing, the sort of place that has first-time visitors pulling out their cameras and snapping photos in every direction at once. The space is filled with vintage and antique items from China and Malaysia, including old medicine cabinets, intricately carved wooden mirror frames, folding screens with stained glass window panes, and old Chinese sign boards.

Other highlights include a bar countertop made from chengal (Malaysian hardwood) and “sourced from a Colonial-era club”, according to the restaurant’s website. The walls are also decorated with a collection of modern paintings by regional artists.

Over the course of several visits I’ve tried a number of menu items, including fish head curry, mutton curry, laksa noodles, seabass in black pepper sauce, and sinus-clearing ginseng soup.

All of these have proven to be quite tasty, but I’ve settled on my own definite favourites, starting with a do-it-yourself appetiser nicknamed “top hats” due to their shape. They’re sort of like mini taco salads that you have to assemble yourself at the table before consuming — imagine the fun you’ll have!

For mains, my top choices start with the beef rending; the sauce is rich with spices, so if you order this dish, opt for the plain steamed rice rather than the coconut rice lest you be overwhelmed by the knicker-twisting flavours.

My other menu favourite is the devil curry chicken with potatoes, which is strong with turmeric, garlic, ginger and chili tanginess. It’s an addictive dish that I can never stop shoveling into my gullet even after my hunger has abated. Thankfully the portion sizes are sufficient without being epic.

The bar at Precious Old China serves Carlsberg on tap, ubiquitous in KL and decent enough for taking the edge off spicy foods. Wine, cocktails and soft drinks are also options for those oddballs who prefer something other than beer.

Old China
Lot M2, Jalan Hang Kasturi, Central Market, Kuala Lumpur

Food : 9
Drink : 8
Atmosphere : 9
Service : 8
X Factor : 7
Value for Money :7

Score BOX : 9/10