fancy new perch
As city intersections go, the corner of Jalan Sultan Ismail and Jalan Bukit Bintang is probably the busiest in Kuala Lumpur. The best place to survey this junction is from the top floor of WOLO hotel, home to the hip new dining establishment by the brains behind Troika Sky Dining – Mr Chew’s Chino Latino Bar & Restaurant.
Eclectic is probably the best way to describe this double-storey space, formerly a residential penthouse. Red brick walls, moody lighting and bearded bartenders might be a little expected, but unusual touches give things a fresh spin. Like the chandelier in the entrance space, looking like dangled chains of pure light, or the portrait of a Chinese Empress behind the bar, looking a little Frida Kahlo with fruits in her hair and flamingo by her side. There are secrets to be discovered here, including the little corner that houses the dessert bar – which serves a dessert-only degustation menu – and the smoking room upstairs, formerly the jacuzzi room (tub still intact), hidden behind a nondescript door.
But we are here for the food. And thankfully, the menu at Mr Chew’s Chino Latino Bar & Restaurant does not disappoint. The name gives a hint to the dishes – bringing together both sides of the Pacific – Asia and Latin America. Fusion is sometimes considered a dirty word in culinary circles, and here it does not even begin to capture the sort of happy experimentation that goes on in the kitchen under the gaze of Executive Chef James Thong. But at its heart, it is the sort of convivial meal that characterises the food from China to Chile.
After a gin & tonic (unusual in the addition of pink peppercorns and guava, imaginatively presented in a Chinese takeaway box), a pickle board kicks the dining portion off. Crunchy, piquant and inventive, it wakes the palette up. Particularly the white fungus flavoured with passionfruit. A fiery Thai fruit and vegetable salad reminds us that this is no watered-down cuisine, while the Everyday Yee Sang (with seaweed and mackerel) ensures prosperity every evening. Mr Chew’s interpretations of various street foods are probably the most successful things on the menu. The Nori Taco is a beautiful amalgamation of salmon sushi and Mexican tacos, while the deep-fried catfish buns are worth second, third and fourth orders – the fish is roasted char siew style, and the som tam is tartly crunchy.
It’s a little Chinese, a little Japanese, a little Thai and a little Mexico so far. But the menu is not afraid to veer into more unusual regions. The stewed lamb ribs with shiitake, edamame and arborio rice has the sort of hearty gaminess that recalls the honest food of Mongolia and western China. Meanwhile, the pan-seared barramundi with tamarind chilli sauce, coconut cream, pineapple and avocado salsa is the sort of multicultural dish that reminds us of Peru – though the ginger flower presence is firmly Malaysian. And don’t let the simple description of organic sweetcorn kernels, butter and shallots dissuade you from this order – these morsels of white-and-gold pearl corn are unfathomably juicy and sweet. No other corn can compare.
There’s barely any room for dessert, so we content ourselves with sampling the bar’s more unusual cocktails. Which includes the elegant Spring Morning in la Casa (umeshu shochu, sparkling wine, golden raspberry and chilli shrub) and the daringly medicinal Luchachino (mezcal, ginseng beer, lime, Aztec chocolate bitters). Outside, the tourists and the touts are pounding the pavement, but that frenetic energy does not extend 15 storeys above. At Mr Chew’s Chino Latino Bar & Restaurant, it is always soigne and serene…. with a cocktail in your hand.