KUALA LUMPUR, April 10 — Not too long ago, eating vegetarian in a Western restaurant here in KL was just limited to probably a simple carbonara pasta or boring salad. But not today. With the opening of Barat along Bangsar’s Lorong Kurau stretch, vegetables are now taking centrestage in a fine dining environment.
Opened around one and half months ago, Barat is the latest venture by The Ganga Cafe’s owners Prabodh and Meeta Sheth. Being a strict vegetarian, Meeta had always wanted to open a Western vegetarian restaurant. “Wherever I go, there’s not much of a choice, so I told my husband that the next time I have a restaurant, it must be Western vegetarian no matter what and it will serve more items and varieties.”
Initially, Prabodh was working on a vegetarian menu for Chilli Rush, a casual dining place he owns in Jaya One that serves Western and Asian dishes. The idea slowly transformed into the opening of another restaurant solely devoted to Western vegetarian fare when a space came up for rent next to The Ganga Cafe.
For many months, they had asked the shophouse’s owner Eddie to rent them the space when it became available. However, as another party had also joined in the bid for that much coveted shophouse, the issue dragged on.
The turning point was when an old Chinese woman turned up at The Ganga Cafe at 8am for three days in a row. Each time, she had approached Meeta to feed her even though the eatery started business only from 8.30am.
The first day, she had thosai, then idli and chapati for the next two days. On the third day, she identified herself as Eddie’s mother, Madam Mak Yoke Lan, who is the actual owner of the shophouse. As Prabodh relates, she clutched Meeta’s hand after her third meal and told her that the shophouse was hers to lease.
Coincidentally when this interview was being conducted, the same lady came around to check out the renovations. As Meeta brought her around, she shared memories about the place that was once a sundry shop about 50 years ago.
It was also their family home and most of the shophouse’s items like the staircase railing was installed by Madam Mak’s late husband.
With Barat, Prabodh’s vision was a place where people chose to eat vegetarian as a lifestyle choice. “We are not a vegetarian restaurant because we are religious or in that nature, but because people eat vegetarian as a lifestyle choice.”
Earlier on the couple had by chance met Lingesh Dimitrus Joseph when he dined at The Ganga Cafe. Through good conversations and a mutual love for food, the couple had clicked with the professional chef. With his input, they worked on a vegetarian menu with a Mediterranean slant since that was Lingesh’s specialty.
The upstairs bar was an important element. “We also wanted to make a place where vegetarians can bring their friends to a nice bar with nice food and environment,” explained Prabodh.
Fueled by his passion for alcohol, he envisioned the bar as a place where one could relax over drinks and snacks before they adjourned to say Barat for a fancy meal or even The Ganga Cafe for a casual bite. This was what he already practised at home whenever the family gathered for a meal.
For the décor, Prabodh pulled in an old friend, Tony Heneberry, who is an Irish marketing wizard and a pure vegetarian. There’s a relaxed tone to the place with its breezy white palette and the natural sunlight pouring in from the transparent glass roof tiles.
As Prabodh explains, “We wanted a place flooded with natural light so the sun comes in and rejuvenates you. At night, you see the moonlight and it’s nice.” A stunning mural of flowers and a woman by Indonesian illustrator Ines Katamso also acts as a beautiful backdrop for the dining area.
Complementing it, you have plants and flowers placed all over the restaurant. As Lingesh explains, it’s different from other fine dining places. “We have broken away from your gloomy fine dining and it’s a place to have a good laugh and a good meal.”
Upstairs, the bar is decked out in cheery colours. There is even an enormous sunflower painting by Heneberry that will bring a smile to your face, as you sip your cocktails.
Even though the plating for Barat has fine dining touches, Prabodh is quick to point out they prefer to keep the atmosphere casual and relaxed. “Fine dining has a connotation of fussiness but we want to do away with that so you can come dressed casually.”
That relaxed environment has given seed to a nice camaraderie between their diners who don’t mind making conversations with total strangers at neighbouring tables.
Most importantly, Barat is also wallet-friendly as a meal here will only set you back by RM30 to RM50 per person, despite its fine dining look. As Lingesh explains, “We have been cautious about how we put ourselves out there. We are trying to make sure good food is made accessible and affordable to all walks of life.”
The menu took a challenging 10 months for Lingesh to sort out. To fully understand the vegetarian palate and the choices available in the city for vegetarians, Lingesh decided to embrace vegetarianism for a short time.
Most importantly, both vegetarians and even non-vegetarians can appreciate the food irrespective of their lifestyle preference. “We don’t want the guys who take meat to miss the meat and that’s why the food is more sophisticated and more work has been done to it so it satisfies their palate,” said Lingesh.
Lingesh also realised he had big shoes to fill since he was next door to The Ganga Cafe that has built up a solid reputation in KL for its food. “I needed to raise my game and be able to create some food that complements Ganga with the same kind of energy and good food but also something that is away from the normal Indian and Chinese food. That is why we chose Mediterranean as there’s a lot of flavours and ingredients but it suits the Malaysian palate.”
It was a challenge for Lingesh to convert the meat- and seafood-centric cuisine into purely vegetarian fare. “I had to take the meat away and see things in a new perspective.”
Using local vegetables and fruits, he employs herbs and spices to bring out the Mediterranean taste. “I have taken the entire concept and their herbs and spices, but I am using the richness of our country with their fruits and vegetables and I am pushing for that as there is so much vegetables that we are not making full use of.”
As the Barat menu is an evolving one, there will be new things to look forward to. This includes a monthly degustation menu and maybe other cuisines. “We are leaning towards Mediterranean but we are still exploring, We are not going to put the limits on it and it can be anything,” said Prabodh.
Even though they have opened for a short time, the response has been good. “It’s been overwhelming to be honest, we have not done any marketing or Facebook. All we wanted to do was to put ourselves out there and get up to speed. We just got people talking about it after they had the food,” said Lingesh. Most importantly, the customers are making repeat visits and bringing their friends.
For Lingesh, there’s a deeper meaning to Barat, as it’s also a story about helping the community. He is now working out a deal with two children’s homes to get them involved in farming organic vegetables for the restaurant. “I saw their piece of land and thought why don’t we start right and do the farm, teach them to cook, eat right and create a new fund for them. It’s not child labour but just using their land.”
Barat Vegetarian Restaurant
19, Lorong Kurau, Bangsar, KL.
Tel: 03-2284 2119 or 010-2882654.
Open for lunch and dinner. Closed on Sundays.