KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 ― In my search for healthier eating places, I heard about this soup-centric destination and thought, what a godsend.
It was hard to find, even after I referred to Google Maps. I ended up wandering around the Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad area for a bit that evening until I looked up.
I climbed the stairs towards Alison Soup House, a mostly white and wood-brown dining space ― not large, but cosy. I looked down and saw a poodle meandering about. Turning around, there was a closed-off dining nook that was once the balcony.
A dog-friendly restaurant? How quaint. It balances the cat café located a few doors away.
What I noticed the most were the aromas. Wood. Soups. Coffee, if you're in luck. Wherever you were born, it doesn't matter; the aromas remind you of home. The calming atmosphere sets in almost immediately ― unless you dislike dogs.
The staff were helpful, especially the lady boss Alicia. “Alison” is the portmanteau of her and her husband Derson's names. The Chinese soups are the highlight of their menu, which feature their families' recipes and the couple's own inventions.
Depending on what you order, you will get a bowl of multigrain rice, or your soup will have brown rice beehoon or mee sua in it.
Besides the usual, which can be as basic as ABC Soup, festive and daily specials can include Western brews such as a thick pumpkin and walnut soup with bacon bits, a black bean and pork rib soup (eyeing that), and the familiar bak kut teh, with real herbs and fall-off-the-bone pork ribs, which was being sold during the long Merdeka weekend.
When I first came here at the end of June or early July, Alison Soup House (henceforth known as ASH) was still at the soft-launch stage, so not much was being offered. But there was only one of me.
I picked a Six-Treasure Herbal Soup to go with a bowl of brown rice, and I asked for a much smaller bowl of a lotus root soup with pork rib ― just to sample.
I loved the soups.
The Six Treasures was brewed with six herbs and came with a grilled pork belly ― and a lot of herby bits. Can the latter be eaten? Alicia assured me they can.
ASH's lotus root soup, meanwhile, is hearty, meaty and fragrant. This is not the stuff some rice stalls serve.
The folks at ASH claim to simmer their broths for at least 10 hours, resulting in broths that are richer in flavour and nutrients. Proof: the bones for that bak kut teh gave way like a soft cookie when pressed.
Also, MSG is not used and the meats come from animals that are fed with natural food and not pumped with antibiotics.
I've been sending friends their way ever since, especially those with strict diets and a tendency to fall sick.
ASH started offering more side dishes, including green veggies, plates of char siew and roast pork, and pork satay. But this time, the little poodle ― Alicia's dog, Spikey ― started nosing and barking at me. For something as big as two cats, it was LOUD.
When I brought Sam and Wendy over, the former was recovering from a bout of flu. Sam wisely chose what's now called the Seven-Treasure Herbal Soup (upgraded from six), which she liked (“Full of flavour!”).
She also had a bit of of Wendy's fiery spicy pork soup, which Wendy poured into separate bowls for us. It came with beehoon, tofu, pork and was REALLY SPICY.
In contrast, my Red Dates, Shiitake Mushroom and Chicken Soup with brown rice beehoon tasted so clean.
A hint of sweetness was there, but little else ― was it due to the spicy soup I tried prior? I can imagine a meatless version of this being a hit with weight-watchers and clean-eaters.
A taste of the pork satay was courtesy of Irene, whom I brought along on another visit on another evening. Spikey was still spiky about my presence at ASH. It barked like a gun upon seeing me at the door. Maybe Alicia should rename it “Thunder.”
Irene did not seem as enthusiastic about the menu, but other than the bits of spring onion in her soup, which she meticulously picked out, she had no complaints.
I do remember her saying nice things about the pork satay. Well-balanced proportions of flesh and fat from properly sourced and marinated meat speak for themselves.
As I reminisce, I think of the old haunts that had closed shop over the years since I started writing. Many of them were opened and run by younger people like Alicia and Derson: youthful enough to dream, energetic enough to chase those dreams, and resilient enough to bounce back when reality hits ― at least, in the early days.
Irene wondered whether places like ASH ― upstairs restaurants that are hard to spot from ground level and cater to niche markets ― can survive in the current economy. At the time, so did I.
Later, checking Instagram, I saw that Sam and Wendy were back at ASH at the tail of the long weekend. That gave me a glimmer of hope. Perhaps Alicia and Derson, their cosy little restaurant and, yes, even little Spikey will be fine.
Alison Soup House
6A (1st Floor), Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad 2
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tue-Fri: 11am-3:30pm, 5:30pm-10pm
Closed on Mondays
Phone: +60 12-737 2085
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/alisonsouphouse/