Merchant’s Lane, KL

Merchant’s Lane has been a popular haunt for local hipsters since it first opened a couple of years ago. I went there for the first time in 2015, and I wasn’t impressed by the limited brunch selection and the lacklustre quality (I still remember how dry the salmon that I ordered tasted).

Yesterday I decided to give the place another go for brunch. The place still looks as charming as the first time I saw it, and the menu has improved significantly. There are now more items to choose from, ranging from the classic big breakfast to the rendang fusion pasta.

The restaurant’s interior is tastefully designed to preserve the charming features of the traditional Chinese shophouse that it occupies. The main dining hall is spacious, with a vaulted ceiling and a thin sunroof pane that allows ample natural light to come in. Antique decorations, bottles and old cans decorate the clean, empty walls, and little flowers provide some colours to the space. Outside the air-conditioned dining hall is the inner courtyard, which is sheltered from the scorching heat by a large shady tree.

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The food has improved substantially since I last went there. I ordered a beef burger set (RM24), which is served with satay (peanut) sauce dressing. The patty is fairly tender, and the charcoal bun is nicely toasted. My friend ordered a rice dish that comes with a large fried chicken (RM22) – and it’s pretty delicious too. We washed down our meals with a refreshing cold-pressed juice each (RM15).

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Verdict:

While the brunch selection has improved tremendously since I last went, it still falls short compared to the likes of Tray, Birch and Yeast. Merchant’s Lane biggest draw is still the superb interior aesthetics and the charming, Straits Chinese ambiance. It’s a perfect place for photo taking with some highly Instagrammable walls – including a rattan swing, which is a hit amongst the shutterbugs (yours truly included). Merchant’s Lane location in Chinatown further adds to its intrigue; it’s nice to spend some time at the historic quarter of town, away from the predictable scenes in Bangsar and Bukit Bintang.

A Walk in Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu is a gorgeous city, with laid-back vibes and modern shopping malls emerging amidst streets with rickety cars and weathered shophouses.

I was there last weekend for a short getaway with friends – we spent much of the time at the beach, so the city wasn’t really the main focus of the trip. We did, however, take a walk around KK’s downtown area, where some humble hawker gems and charming old coffeeshops could be found.

The walk was something that I looked forward to, as I had not been in KK for quite some time – my last visit was in 2005.

My observations:

First of all, most of the buildings in KK City Centre were constructed in the 1970s-1980s – this was the time when Sabah was one of the wealthiest states in Malaysia. There are some really popular kopitiams serving local fares like the piping hot laksa and wantan mee.

We went to Yee Fun on Gaya Street for laksa – it’s a RM9 bowl of rich laksa broth. It’s alright, but I prefer spicier and less creamy broth of Kuching Laksa.

Sabah Laksa

Gaya Street, one of the main thoroughfares in KK City is lined with weather shophouses, some of them are already converted into fashionable cafes and boutique hotels, while the rest is still occupied by kopitiams, family-owned hardware stores and corner shops.

The old Milimewah at Jalan Pantai, which used to be quite popular during its heyday, is still there – albeit in the rickety state.

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Much of KK’s new developments are concentrated outside the city centre, with the area surrounding KK Times Square and Imago mall attracting much of the new money in the city.

Gleaming condo blocks, KK

This has culminated into the decaying state of some of the office blocks in the city centre.

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Inner city urban decay is something that is typical in many Malaysian cities – and KK is no exception to this trend. Kuching and Penang city centres also have some underutilised commercial and office spaces.

Fortunately, there are still many active 5-star hotels operating in KK City Centre, like Grand Hyatt and Le Meridien, ensuring the somewhat continuing viability of the inner city.

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There are also some interesting cafes to explore at the area, most of them rustic (faux-rustic rather) – if you fancy some latte and cakes, that is.

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For a good bird’s eye view of the city, we took a 10-minute hike up the Signal Hill lookout point. The view is quite impressive – too bad we were there just before a heavy rain descended upon the town, so the picture below was taken sans a backdrop of a blue sky.

KK City view

KK’s waterfront is a fantastic spot to catch sunset. Upon sundown, it becomes a vibrant social hub in the city, where tourists and locals mingle and drink. The Irish pub here is also popular among the expats living in KK.

We also went to the Filipino Market located just next to the waterfront – it’s a bustling place in the evening, with hawkers frying noodles and grilling fish amidst the chaotic scene of noisy trinket peddlers and fruit sellers. While the waterfront is a neatly maintained place that taps into the tourist market, Filipino market is unkempt and messy. A different world.

No trip to KK could be perfect without a seafood feast. Kampung Air near Plaza Shell is an excellent spot for that. The place is filled with Sunday dinner patrons, many of them mainland Chinese tourists. We had a really good dinner of lobsters, tiger prawns, smallers prawns, clam soup, steamed fish and local vege – and the price was reasonable at RM140/pax. Considering the size of the feast – this is a fraction of what you’d have to fork out in KL.

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The seafood dinner was the highlight of the trip – the lobsters are to die for, easily amongst the best meals I’ve had this year so far.

With its picturesque outlying islands, great seafood and interesting inner city streets, KK is quite a place to visit. Perfect for a weekend getaway. I like it.

FH

Luscious by Lisa T – the new lepak place in Mont Kiara

A new cupcake joint had its first day of operation today in Mont Kiara today, and my colleagues and I went down to check it out.

We had a lovely time.

Luscious by Lisa T occupies the space in 1 Mont Kiara that used to house a German bakery – which did not do well (RM17 for a tiny takeaway sandwich, anyone?). It’s located on the ground floor, just in front of the florist and next to Pierre Cardin.

The interior spells new (duh) and it’s very Soho-esque, with dark walls and red chaise lounge chairs. There’s also a small private corner – perfect for a lazy Sunday gossip session. The drinks selection is very much standard cafe fare – latte, hot chocolate, caramel latte and such.

The floor lights up, which is pretty cool.

The very friendly and bubbly owner, from which the cafe got its name from, was there. We had a short conversation with Lisa and it was clear that she was very passionate in making cupcakes and sweet fares. And she’s a big fan of Fazura too! One of her cupcakes was named…Fazura.

Team #sayangidirimu lah ni.

The cupcakes are absolutely gorgeous, and the flavours are varied, from conventional (Rocher) to something more interesting (rose bandung and lychee, anyone?).

My colleagues and I got a few boxes (each holding six), and here’s what one of the boxes looks like:

The cupcake with the tall caramel popcorn and cream topping turned over (unfortunately, but never mind).

The cupcakes here are big; significantly bigger than those that you’d get from Wondermilk, and they cost about RM9-10 each.

Favourite:

George, the Rocher cupcake is absolutely delicious. The Rocher ball sits nicely on top of a bed of ground nuts and a generous dash of dark chocolate mousse.

The chocolate cake base is moist, with a very slight hint of cocoa bitterness – and not too sweet. This one melted in my mouth. Lovely.

Least favourite:

This one, called Scarlet Lady, looks absolutely gorgeous, but taste-wise it is slightly underwhelming. The mango cream has a very weak hint of mango taste, it tastes more like butter cream, and the base is quite dry. There’s a nice dash of passionfruit puree at the bottom. The soury goodness of the passionfruit puree saves the otherwise boring cupcake – allowing me to finish it. The maroon lips topping the cake is edible – it’s made of chocolate.

Luscious also sells gelato, which I didn’t get to try, and some savouries as well. I took out the salmon and squid pie called Finding Nemo.

The filling is very creamy, with the salmon very soft and nicely cooked. It’s a decent pie, ad quite delicious at that – not huge, but good enough for a light lunch.

Verdict

Well, this place is just downstairs from my office, and now I know that I need not leave the 1 Mont Kiara complex whenever I need some sugar rush.

Mont Kiara has a really awesome new lepak place, and that’s obviously good news.

Speak soon,
FH