KUALA LUMPUR, April 2 — APW Bangsar astounds. Just when you think the commercial printing factory turned creative campus couldn’t get any cooler, it added Paper Plates — an eclectic makan row carefully curated by the APW team of Ee Soon Wei and Lim Bek Yee — which has become a big hit with the food-hopping, Instagram-mad crowd.
Just over a year ago, this was a disused warehouse shed waiting for its turn to shine as the APW campus grew and grew with a collaborative co-working space (Uppercase), event venues (Bookmark, The Bindery), a pocket park and the coolest coffee spot in Bangsar (Pulp).
Today Paper Plates (notice the printing- and paper-related theme in all the names?) dazzles with vibrant food-and-beverage (F&B) discoveries: a Melburnian-style brunch café, an apprenticeship-based eatery, an artisanal wood-fired pizzeria and a Japanese/Thai izakaya. And just to mix things up, there is even a “musical” barbershop.
For APW founder Ee, creating a “nouveau food hall” was the natural way forward. He says, “Food is big in Asia, with a diversity of options in rojak form. In selecting tenants for Paper Plates, I leaned towards dedicated culinary outfits that focused on the product. I wanted the space to be well-designed and intimate hence the limited area per outlet.”
The first kid on the block was Breakfast Thieves, an offshoot of the popular brunch haven in Melbourne’s Fitzroy suburb.
While studying finance in Melbourne University, co-founder Edwin Koh got interested in entrepreneurship. He recalls, “F&B had the lowest barrier of entry so I started a boutique beer bar with friends in 2009. Initially we suffered losses before breaking even in 2011 after I revamped the operations. This lesson helped when I opened Breakfast Thieves a year later with two partners — it was profitable from Day One.”
As the founders are Malaysians, they decided to open another branch of Breakfast Thieves back home. Joel Teh, their resident marketing guru, says, “Both Breakfast Thieves outlets are located in a revitalised space; our Fitzroy café is inside an old chocolate factory. Everything is made from scratch. Fitzroy had pork on the menu; in Bangsar we had to tweak our recipes quite a bit. Also, most customers are expecting a typical Big Breakfast menu; our challenge is getting them to try Aussie-style dishes such as corn fritters.”
Next door, 52 Barbers — run by musician McB who is a deft hand with both a guitar and a shaver (though not at the same time, presumably) — offers bespoke haircuts. The Sandakan native has been playing music professionally since 1999 and picked up barbering three years ago from his friend Lex Low of Amplitude Barbershop.
Some days he’ll open his doors wide and give an impromptu acoustic performance, busking with spotlights overhead.
“I love music, fashion, lifestyle and art — and barbering, to me, is a combination of all,” says McB. “You can do anything to make a living but how many of us have fun? Time is precious, and I count off days just like strokes on a cave wall, hence my logo. I wanted a place with soul and I found it here at APW.”
Equally deserving of the limelight is Agak Agak, a Malaysian eatery with a huge heart. Dish by Ili’s Ili Sulaiman and Root Cellar KL’s Basira Yeusuff partnered to create a food-based apprenticeship programme, hiring and training young people from high-need communities.
Ili says, “Besides making and serving good food, we want to change mindsets about our industry and uplift what is a noble profession. I believe you can run a profitable business while having a social impact on the community you serve.”
Observing that APW feels like a friendly neighbourhood, Ili adds, “Everyone is so helpful. If anyone next door runs out of ice, they know they can get it from us. We’ve gone to Pulp for serviettes when we ran out of those!
“If our customers prefer specialty coffee, we welcome them to bring that over from Pulp since we only serve Ipoh coffee. We want our customers to feel at home here. When our staff sees all the various owners interacting like this, they will follow suit too.”
If there’s anyone who knows about managing teams, it is Proof Pizza + Wine founder Wong Yin-How. A veteran of the F&B industry in Klang Valley with 14 years experience, Wong started as a wine purveyor with Vintry before launching restaurants such as Flint and Stoked.
He says, “Two years ago, we introduced charcoal cooking at Stoked. Soon I was bitten by this elemental style of cooking especially through my travels in Spain and France. My other outlets focus more on meat and seafood, so I felt pizzas are the next thing.”
Indeed the dominant features of Wong’s intimate, two-storey pizza parlour are two wood-fire ovens and a stack of cut logs. He says, “My chef Meg proofs the dough for at least 24 hours and up to 48, much longer than others do. Meg was originally from another of my restaurants; I learned from reading Richard Branson that the best way to retain good staff is to expand. Proof is my way of providing new challenges for Meg and her team.”
Wong had been a long-time patron of Pulp and fan of APW’s community-based concept. He says, “I told my wife that I’d love to open a place here if a space became available. Then I found out about the last lot, which my F&B friends felt was too small. For me, this was simply a different sort of opportunity. I enjoy the camaraderie here and I get to be more playful, spending more time in the kitchen than before.”
At the far end of the row is Kaiju Company, a casual diner that dishes up Thai-Japanese rice bowls, noodles and salads. Old beer crates and vintage posters abound. The kaiju (Japanese for “strange beast”) motif is wittily captured by a 30-metre origami dragon suspended from the ceiling; this is actually a light installation by another APW tenant, Jun Ong of POW Ideas. (Ong and his partner Kyle E. also designed APW’s Pocket Park.)
The feisty fusion flavours of Kaiju are courtesy of head chef Foong Wai Choong, formerly of Tai Thong and Wondermama. He says, “We merge Tokyo’s izakaya vibe with that of Bangkok’s street food. It’s a new challenge for me as I move from the kitchen into operations.
“Our customers tell us they like the fuss-free ambience. At night, we have communal tables outside so customers can order food from the other restaurants. It’s very happening, just like a hawker centre!”
Acting as a big brother to the “Paper Platers” tenants is Marcus Foo of Pulp. The specialty coffee bar opened in 2014, making it the very first APW tenant. Foo shares, “Many have asked me how the new tenants would affect our business. I think it’s great! You do not want to be the only tenant in the mall. We should be a community. The more visitors we have at APW, the more everyone benefits.”
True to his word, Foo chaired first APW tenant meeting and helped organise a recent potluck party to welcome the Paper Plates folks. He explains, “It’s a wonderful way to bring everyone together. Not only the owners, who knew each other by then, but the various teams.
“We had about 100 people at The Bindery with everyone bringing their signature dishes. I gave each Paper Plates tenant a ‘Bro Price’ card so their staff can enjoy a discount at Pulp. Let’s bring everyone closer together.”
When tables are packed on busy days, it’s not uncommon to hear Foo or his team of baristas introducing customers to other eateries at Paper Plates with a warm “Why not try the rest?” Now that’s right neighbourly. The world sure could do with more of that.
29 Jalan Riong, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2282 3233
Open Tues-Sun 9am-5pm; Mon closed
Tel: 03-2788 3548
Open Tues-Sun 11am-7pm; Mon closed
Tel: 012-368 9944
Open Tues-Sun 10am-6pm; Mon closed
Tel: 03-2788 3590
Proof Pizza + Wine
Open for lunch Fri-Mon 12:15pm-3pm; dinner Wed-Mon 6pm-10:30pm; Tues closed
Tel: 03-2788 3613
Open Tues-Sun 12pm-2:30pm & 6pm-10pm; Mon closed
Tel: 03-2788 3796
Pulp by Papa Palheta
Open Mon-Fri 7:30am-10pm; Sat-Sun 9am-11pm
Tel: 03-2201 3650