KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 23 — Taman Desa is where most foodies’ fantasies come true, given its reputation as a suburban gastronomic paradise. To be honest though, on most days of the week, our default choice for dinner is usually one of izakaya kingpin Seiji Fujimoto’s four shops. From udon to yakitori, ramen to karaage, his shops serve up delicious and inexpensive Japanese fare.
Little wonder Taman Desa has become a casual dining hotspot for KL-ites in large part due to Fujimoto’s izakaya empire. Sometimes, I feel the urge to try something different. Most of you would understand; you probably get cravings for something new too.
Here, then, are a few alternatives, for every night of the week in Taman Desa.
Monday: Red Kettle
Located not far from Fujimoto’s Yokohama-influenced Lao Jiu Lou eatery is Red Kettle, a bakery cum bistro that draws nearby residents during the day with their freshly-baked loaves of focaccia. Come nightfall and diners enjoy comfort food, albeit with a fusion twist.
The most popular item on the menu is their Porkie Rice Bowl, a hearty bowl of rice topped with char-grilled pork shoulder (that has been marinated for 12 hours), an onsen egg, sautéed mushrooms, sauce, buttered sweet peas, sesame seeds and spring onions. A bowlful of umami goodness.
Another can’t-miss, especially for those eschewing “white carbs”, is the warm miso salad — an assortment of vegetables doused in a savoury miso dressing. Top it up with grilled chicken for a protein kick. Those who aren’t watching their calories should try their fried chicken, served with paprika grilled corn-on-the-cob and fries. Worth the guilt afterwards.
Tuesday: Aji-Ya Japanese Restaurant
Taman Desa is home to a sizeable community of Japanese expatriates and many of them reside at OBD Garden Tower Condominium. Hidden inside this white and spare building (perhaps reflecting minimalism in Japanese design) is Aji-Ya, a Japanese restaurant run by Vivian Leong and her family.
Leong speaks fluent Japanese, which may explain the large Japanese customer base, some of whom leave their bottles of umeshu (Japanese plum liqueur) at Aji-Ya for partaking during dinner. There are also shelves upon shelves of manga (Japanese comic books) for you to peruse while you wait.
Besides excellent sashimi, signature dishes include their salmon skin salad, katsudon (rice topped with pork cutlet and egg) and old-school ramen in shoyu (soy sauce) broth. According to Leong, the best days to enjoy sashimi are Tuesdays and Fridays as that’s when they get fresh deliveries. It’s a taste of Tokyo without having to fly there!
Wednesday: Old Chengdu Sichuan Restaurant
Expatriates from China appear to be another growing community in Taman Desa. Many of them miss a taste of home and head to Old Chengdu Sichuan Restaurant at Faber Towers to satisfy their pangs.
Sichuan cuisine is infamous for their flaming flavours — spicy and hot, pungent and tongue-numbing, all at the same time. This is why the cuisine is also known as mala: ma means “numbing” while la is “spicy” in Mandarin. Key traits of this style of cooking include copious use of ultra-hot Sichuan peppercorns and fiery dried chillies.
At Old Chengdu, try their yuxiang qiezi (which translates literally as “fish fragrant eggplant”), a braised eggplant and pork dish (that has no fish, despite its name); laziji, a mala-style poultry dish that’s also called “farmhouse chicken” as free-range or kampung chicken is used; and to cool off, some braised baby cabbage in chicken stock and wolfberries (perhaps the only non-spicy item on their menu).
Thursday: Await Café
Though it’s located in a quiet neighbourhood (and on the second floor of a nondescript shophouse no less), Await Café often gets customers dropping by from as far as distant states simply to experience their slow-brewed, hand-crafted siphon coffee. What few know, however, is that this little café that could is also an increasingly popular dinner destination.
Besides caffeinated brews, Await Café also makes an authentic Taiwanese-style minced pork rice — this is comfort food at its best. For those who’d like a sandwich, their Elvis Presley — a homage to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the form of a peanut butter, banana and bacon toastie — offsets its decadence with a healthy side salad.
On weekends, café goers are in for a special treat: Japanese curry rice topped with siew yoke (Chinese roast pork belly). The siew yoke is made fresh by Await Café’s own Nicholas Cheah; this is one barista who knows his way around both the bar and the kitchen.
Friday: Moobaan Thai
Many stay back late on Fridays to avoid the inevitable traffic jam. As a reward for enduring the crawl, how about some spicy Thai fare to perk you up and prepare you for the weekend ahead? Moobaan Thai — practically next door to Fujimoto’s Sanuki Udon — offers affordable Thai street food in a vibrant, colourful environment. (You can’t miss its loud cyan façade for one.)
Alongside staples such as tom yum, pad Thai and som tam (the über-spicy green papaya salad), Moobaan Thai also dishes up khai pa lo, a traditional home-cooked dish of five-spice stewed pork and hard-boiled eggs, the way a Thai grandmother might make it. Its sweet gravy, redolent of the cinnamon, star anise and garlic used, goes perfectly with a bowl or two of steamed white rice.
Saturday: Pang’s Kitchen
Saturday dinners tend to be family dinners, a meal to celebrate with your loved ones. Perhaps the best time in the week to splurge a little. Certainly the Cantonese delights at Pang’s Kitchen (a local offshoot of the original one-Michelin-starred restaurant in Hong Kong) aren’t the cheapest in town.
But you do get what you pay for. Take their Scrambled Milk with Scallop, for example. The pale concoction of egg whites, milk and fresh scallops appears uninviting initially, but lightly douse it with vinegar and take a bite; I promise you that you’ll be hooked.
The same goes for the deceptively simple Stir-Fried Kai Lan with Shrimp Paste in Claypot; good ingredients and great skill result in a plate of crunchy, savoury greens like none other. Every table has an order of the Crispy Chicken with Garlic and with good reason: crispy outside, moist inside. You’d be tempted to order more of this garlicky poultry but there are almost another 70 items on the menu to try...
Sunday: Roti canai stall opposite Sri Kota
Something simple for Sunday: head to the no-name roti canai stall beneath the mature trees opposite Sri Kota Supermarket (one of the oldest landmarks in the neighbourhood). During the day, regulars enjoy their roti telur and roti pisang, accompanied by a saucer of dhal or curry. (And, of course, they do in the evenings too.)
Don’t miss out on their straightforward rendition of a classic: mi goreng Maggi. The instant noodles are wok-fried with an assortment of vegetables, tofu and egg, and if you ask for it — you should — some chopped-up ayam goreng berempah (spiced fried chicken). The result is drier than other stalls, not as reddish in hue (less of the instant soup sachet used, one assumes), yet more flavourful and... just right with a mug of freshly pulled teh tarik.
What a way to end a waist-widening week!
37, Jalan Bukit Desa 5,
Taman Bukit Desa, Kuala Lumpur
Open Mon-Thu 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat 10am-10pm; Sun closed
Tel: 03-7988 0801
Aji-Ya Japanese Restaurant
Ground Floor, OBD Garden Tower Condominium,
Jalan Desa Utama, Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur
Open Tue-Sun 12pm-2.30pm and 6pm-10.30pm; Mon closed
Tel: 03-7987 7088
Old Chengdu Sichuan Restaurant
G16 & G17, Ground Floor, Faber Towers,
Jalan Desa Bahagia, Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur
Open daily 11:30am-10pm
Tel: 03-2856 7919
9-1-5, Jalan 3/109F,
Taman Danau Desa, Kuala Lumpur
Open Mon-Sat 11am-11pm and Sun 11am-8pm
Tel: 03-7971 0978
15, Jalan Bukit Desa 5,
Taman Bukit Desa, Kuala Lumpur
Open daily 12pm-3pm & 5:30pm-10pm
Tel: 016-312 3331
Ground Floor, Wisma Miramas, No. 1,
Jalan 2/109E, Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 012-631 7971 / 03-7971 2748
Open daily, 12pm-10.30pm
Roti canai stall beneath the trees
Off Jalan 3/109F,
Taman Danau Desa, Kuala Lumpur (opposite Sri Kota Supermarket)
Open daily 7am till late