Birch – DC Mall

Many new brunch spots have popped up in KL recently, but not many of them offer anything special.

Birch is one of the newcomers in the scene. Located in the brand new Damansara City Mall, the restaurant adopts the combination of industrial design sensibilities with the dine-in-the-garden concept. The result is a spectacular space with ample natural light, verdant indoor greenery and welcoming, non-uptight vibes.

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There’s plenty of caffeine options to choose from, so I had the iced soy matcha latte (RM17).

Birch’s weekend menu offers a selection of three salads, and I tried out the Birch Garden Salad (RM24). The fresh lettuce, rocket, cucumber and cherry tomatoes are fresh, and mix well with the delicious roasted pumpkin bits. The honey mustard dressing is mild and not too overwhelming. A crunchy seaweed layer provides added texture and umami to the hearty dish.

The salad

An eggless brunch isn’t a legit brunch.

Birch’s Eggs Benedict (RM26) is very delicious. Spicy pulled chicken, basted in flavourful spiced barbecue sauce, is served on top of a freshly toasted sourdough. The highlight of the dish is the perfectly done Hollandaise covering the poached eggs. It’s so yummy. Creamy, but not sickly.

It’s hard to find the perfect Hollandaise in KL. The quality ranges from atrocious (vinegary and sour) at Quartet to alright at Antipodean. I’m glad Birch does it really well.

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We ended our satisfying brunch with some desserts. There are many cupcakes to choose from, from the standard red velvet to their Gula Melaka creation. I tried their macadamia cheese cake (RM19) and the dark chocolate cupcake (RM10).

The cheesecake is superb, with candied crunchy macadamia bits on top. It’s not too sweet. The chocolate cupcake tastes alright, nothing special. The dark chocolate filling is rich and satisfying, but the cake itself is too floury to my liking.

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Verdict

After my second visit, I’ve concluded that Birch is now one of my favourite brunch spots in KL. It’s quite affordable, compared to the likes of BLVD. The food here is great, and the service is pretty quick too. Parking is super easy at DC Mall (ample space, and RM1 per entry during weekends).

However, due to the popularity of the place, expect long queues during weekend brunch/lunch period.

Birch, Lot G10/11, Ground Floor
Damansara City Mall, Jalan Damanlela,
Damansara 50490 Kuala Lumpur

Chicken Rice Balls in Melaka – Ee Ji Ban (Ichiban)

I was in Melaka last weekend, and as always, it was all about eating and more eating. Melaka’s food is glorious, and chicken rice balls are among of the things you can only get here.

While there are dozens of restaurants serving chicken rice balls in the state, only one is halal certified – Ee Ji Ban. This place is really popular, with long queues during lunch time, so if you don’t want to go through that, go during dinner time.

The menu isn’t complicated – there are the chicken rice balls (RM0.50 per ball) with the chicken (roasted/boiled), standard vege far (kailan, bak choy etc), fish balls and seafood.

The chicken rice balls are flavourful. The rice balls taste like normal chicken rice, but the long rice used here is mixed with glutinous rice, hence the “starchy” aftertaste. For a moderately empty stomach, five balls per person is enough.

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The chicken is served boiled or roasted, and the two of us ordered half a chicken (RM26.00). The chicken is delicious, its skin is crunchy and the meat tender. Very tasty, and we finished it within a few minutes.

For some greens on the side, we ordered stir fried kailan (RM8). This one is alright – very standard. One can never go wrong with a simple dish like this.

Apart from the standard chicken rice balls, Ee Ji Ban also serves Nyonya delicacies. The sambal seafood is popular, so we ordered a small portion of sambal sotong (RM20). While the sambal is tasty, we were quite surprised to see how small the portion was. It’s tiny, and I’m sure you could get a much bigger portion of squid sambal for RM20 in a similar standard restaurant elsewhere. We found out that the portion for the sambal udang was similarly small, so if you’re hankering for some seafood, go somewhere else.

The tiny portion of sambal sotong

The service is fast and efficient here, just like how we expected.

Verdict

Ee Ji Ban is a good place to try out the famous chicken rice balls for those who only eat halal. The price is moderately expensive, but overall it’s still good value, if you avoid the seafood dishes.

275, Jalan Melaka Raya 3, Taman Melaka Raya, 75000 Melaka

 

 

Modern Society at DC Mall

DC Mall is a new half-empty shopping gallery that’s located at the heart of Pusat Bandar Damansara. The mall itself is quite nicely laid-out, with a spacious al fresco dining section, and Modern Society is one of the new restaurants that popped up there.

We started the dinner with some appetisers. The Nyonya chicken wings (RM19.90) feature tasty, crispy skins, but the chicken meat is quite tasteless – the marinade didn’t really seep through. The sambal sauce that accompanies the wings is good – and just as spicy as it should be. The popcorn chicken is very yummy crunchy. It’s served with garlic sauce (RM18.90)

Cikin!

I ordered the foie gras risotto (RM49.90) for my main. The portion is fair, and the risotto is prepared in apple chutney and goji berries broth, giving it a sweet taste. The foie gras chunk is nicely done, but the taste isn’t strong enough to counterbalance the sweetness of the berries broth – so the risotto leaves a sweet aftertaste. I would’ve loved for the flavour to be more balanced, considering that I preferred a more savoury main. Overall it’s still quite delicious.

The foie gras risotto

Another main that I tried, Tacos Trio (RM36.90), is delicious. The tacos are served with pulled oxtail, fried chicken and seafood. The pulled oxtail is very nicely done and soft – it’s excellent.

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The dessert selection is very limited – there are only two items on the menu. I had the panna cotta (RM20.90). It’s really good, with a slight hint on minty taste. Much recommended.

Verdict

Overall, Modern Society doesn’t disappoint. The service is fairly impersonal, but very efficient. However, I wish the dessert selection was more extensive. But this place is still worth checking out – the menu also includes a long list of quirky cocktails and drinks for those who enjoy a tipple or two.

Super Saigon, TTDI

I’m a huge fan of pho. Pho, like most other Vietnamese dishes, is hearty, healthy and simple. You can never go wrong with it.

KL has some excellent Vietnamese restaurants, and while their offerings are decent, none of them are excellent. Restaurants in KL tend to skimp on the fresh & natural ingredient (which is the secret behind the exquisite taste and brothy goodness of Vietnamese noodle dishes) – and add artificial stock in its place, so the pho doesn’t really have that special umph.

Super Saigon is quite a favourite amongst Instagrammers lately, so I thought I’d check it out for a quick lunch in between meetings.

The interior is light, cheerful and fresh. Porcelains and cute little bowls adorn the plain white wall. The deli-meets-bistro atmosphere is quintessentially TTDI-Bangsar-Hartamas.

I walked in way past lunch hour, so the place wasn’t busy. The service was fairly quick and impersonal – nothing special.

There’s chicken, beef and vegetarian pho to choose from. You can find the menu here. I choose the medium rare sliced beef and beef balls pho (RM18.90). The price is definitely on the low side, considering that other Vietnamese restaurants in town (e.g. Du Viet) normally charges upwards of RM25 for a bowl.

The pho at Super Saigon is quite alright. The meat serving isn’t very generous, but maybe this is due to the relatively low prices. The condiments are sufficient. I had no problem finishing a bowl. The soup tastes brothy enough, but it’s nothing exceptional. A good beef pho normally has a slight hint of “sweetness” in its taste – not the sweet soy sauce taste, but the sweetness from the fresh beef extract. This pho doesn’t really have that.

I washed down the meal with an avocado smoothie (RM9.90). This one is really good. The avocado extract is thick, no sugar added. Chocolate syrup on top. Awesome.

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Since I was at the restaurant on a working day, I originally planned to stay longer, get a cup of Vietnamese coffee, and do work. However, while the restaurant does provide free wi-fi, it didn’t work that day. Bummer.

Verdict

Well, this place is alright. Their menu is quite substantial, there’s banh mi too, so I might go back and try out something else there. Plus point for some of you guys: Super Saigon also prides itself as the first halal certified Vietnamese restaurant in KL. So if you’re a bit was-was about going to the likes of Du Viet, you can go there.

 

Speak soon,

FH

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.

Hippie’s Paradise – Mad Monkey Koh Rong Samloem

Cambodia isn’t well known for its beaches. Thailand has its world-famous Phuket and ultra sleazy Pattaya, while Indonesia has Bali and Lombok. Cambodia is still known as the land of Indiana Jones temples. Angkor Wat is so majestic that it attracts so much attention around it, leaving other parts of the country relatively unknown to most tourists.

When AirAsia started flying to Sihanoukville, I jumped on the chance to explore Cambodia’s beach offerings. While Sihanoukville itself isn’t a remarkable place (no joke, it’s hideous and tacky), I had the best experience at Koh Rong Samloem, a small island 40 minutes off the mainland.

Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem

The two islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem are only accessible via speedboats from Sihanoukville. A return trip to either of the islands is priced at about USD20, which isn’t very cheap for Southeast Asian standard. Good thing is, you can get on a bus right at the Sihanoukville jetty to Battambang and Phnom Penh, which means that you don’t have to spend so much time at the port city before or after your island excursion.

My speed boat took me right to a jetty at Koh Rong Samloem – from there, the staff led a few of us on the boat to a catamaran that took us to Mad Monkey Koh Rong Samloem.

The boat ride!

The resort is owned by the Mad Monkey group, which operates a string of hostels in Cambodia. I’ve been to their hostels in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and had a really good time, so my expectation was quite high.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

Upon arrival, our group was greeted by the friendly staff who walked us to the registration area at the bar. It’s really sandy, so bring your crocs or plastic thongs! The bar is really hippie and a very social place, with music playing until late. The frontline staff are mainly locals, managed by some Australians.

I booked a private bungalow. There’s no air-conditioning, but at least the place is clean. The bed is alright, with some basic pillows – it’s not 5-star hotel quality but for USD25 per night, you really get what you paid for here. I wish there was a chair though, it’d be nice to lounge at the spacious balcony that faces the beach. The bungalow is a wooden structure, with many small cracks and holes on the floor and the wall, and its location right next to a tropical jungle means that there are many bugs and insects. Fortunately the mosquito net does its job well.

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There’s no wifi or mobile phone reception on the island, and there’s no restaurants, shops, not even a village nearby, so you’re basically stuck in Mad Monkey throughout your stay – which is not a bad thing, since the quiet, unspoilt beach will keep you occupied. There are beach hammocks and swings that you can use.

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The remoteness of the place gave rise to a friendly culture. While it felt a little awkward at first since I came alone, I ended up making new friends throughout the three days I was there. Everyone’s friendly, so as long as you’re open-minded, non judgmental and friendly too, you’ll have a really good time there.

The bar is where the socialising is most of the time. Drinks are quite cheap there, for Malaysian standard, and there are happy hour prices too. The restaurant, which shares its space with the bar, serves alright food. It’s a hit-or-miss. The menu is rather extensive, covering western, Thai and Khmer cuisines. Throughout my 3-day stay, the food ranged from the delicious creamy seafood tomyum and yummy fish amok to the passable breakfast of omelette and terrible Khmer-style fried noodle. The morning coffee is good though!

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Mad Monkey Koh Rong Samloem shares the space on the tiny island with the military, so the bar stopped playing music at midnight. However, after the music ended, everyone headed to the beach for a tipsy dip. The water was surprisingly warm, considering that it was past midnight, and it was a perfect opportunity to see luminous planktons. These planktons are only visible underwater, and there’s snorkelling equipment that you can borrow.

After three days, when it was time to leave, I felt like I wasn’t ready to. I had a massively good time, and left with no regrets – except for one. I should’ve applied insect repellent on my body more frequently than twice a day. Sandfly bites aren’t cool; my whole body felt so itchy for three days after I got back in KL!

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Some travel advice:

  1. Mad Monkey Koh Rong Samloem is a party hostel, so if you’re looking for a very quiet destination, this place is probably not for you
  2. Bring coconut oil – it works better than normal insect repellant in protecting you from Cambodian sandfly bites and I learnt this trick too late
  3. Bring USD – the island has no ATM or the internet connection needed for the credit card machine to function. The tab system works here, and you’re expected to settle everything before you leave
  4. Be friendly and kind to the staff – and they’ll be extra nice to you, which helps!
  5. If your budget allows for some splurging, choose the bungalows. Dorms are much cheaper, but facilities are really basic there. The whole resort is sandy, so it’s nice to have your own ensuite bathroom and a little bit of personal space in the bungalow

Speak soon!

FH

12 Hours in Porto, Portugal

I had the opportunity to visit Porto in May – just as the summer began to hit Portugal. While I did not get to spend as much time there as I did in Lisbon, Porto has definitely left behind a lasting impression.

When it comes to beauty, few cities match Porto. It is so maddeningly beautiful. A feast to the eyes.

The streets are charming and not too busy. The old, historical inner quarter exudes the vibes that are very typical of any other Southern European city – weathered buildings, slightly corrugated window bars, laid-back ambiance, cobbled streets, and al fresco cafes. The main streets are not as touristy as in Lisbon, and the cafes and restaurants cater to the locals, so they are quite affordable.

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Portugal is significantly cheaper than Western European countries – you can get a cup for coffee for EUR1.5 here, and a decent no-frill meal at EUR5. Pastries are plentiful in Portugal, and in Porto, you must try the codcake. It’s EUR3.5 each. Very tasty, especially with the melted cheese filling.

Cod cake, Porto, EUR3.5
A lavish squid stew, EUR10

Bom Sucesso is a popular food market in Porto. It’s quite upmarket, so prices are slightly higher here than other smaller, less known markets in the city. However, it’s still quite affordable – EUR10 should be enough for a decent 2-course meal here. There’s a lively seafood section as well, and you should try the barnacles – locals seem to love them.

Bom Sucesso MarketPorto also has a medium-sized railway station – rail infrastructure in Portugal isn’t as developed as in France/Benelux/Italy, and the railway station caters to regional trains. There is a regular service between the city and Lisbon too.

The railway station is stylishly decorated with some really impressive artworks depicting Portuguese history.

Porto Railway Station

Porto’s subway system isn’t very complicated – it consists of several light rail lines, mainly at-grade, but with underground sections in the city centre. It’s quite cheap too, fare starts at EUR1. The light rail is very extensive and it takes you to nearly all of the popular tourist attractions in the city. The system is also very easy to navigate – much easier than the relatively poorly signaged and convoluted Lisbon Metro.

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Porto also has its share of modern architecture, and the most impressive display of this in the city’s new opera house. Designed by Dutch maestro Rem Koolhaas, Casa da Musica is an impressive performing art centre, surrounded by a very attractive urban square. Critics raved about this building -Nicolai Ouroussoff of NYT called it “one of the most important concert halls built in the last 100 years”.

Too bad my visit to Porto was so brief – it would be nice if I could go there again to catch a performance at this impressive venue.

Casa da Musica

And here’s the best part about Porto.

Its dramatic setting.

No trip to Porto is ever complete without a stroll across Ponte de Dom Luis I. The walk gave me vertigo – the bridge is as high as 85m. Completed in 1886, the bridge was, at one point, the world’s longest.

Just have a look at the pictures below. The view from the bridge was so brilliant I ended up coming to the same spot twice. The breathtaking view, soft wind blowing on my face, the slowly changing hues of the skies as the sun began to descend – I felt calm and very much at peace just sitting there at the bridge. So simple, yet so beautiful.

Definitely the highlight of my Portugal trip.

FH

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

Jakarta within a day – a peek into the soul of the city

Jakarta, with its population of 20 million, is a huge, sprawling metropolis. While culturally rich, the city is also infamous for its perceived concrete jungle character and the unfortunate distinction of having the world’s worst traffic . Travellers visiting Indonesia often skip the capital for Bali, Bandung and Yogyakarta – which is unfortunate.

While I agree that macet in Jakarta is incredibly frustrating (imagine spending 2.5 hours in the car for what would have otherwise been a 30-minute ride from the airport), this is a very exciting city. It’s clogged and congested, but also very vibrant and cultured, if you know where to look.

I have made it a point to visit the city every year over the past three years, and I was there last weekend, this time around with four cousins, for our own little family bonding time. We had a massively good time exploring the city.

For those who want to check out what Jakarta has to offer, and learn a bit about Indonesia’s history that culminated into the making of its people’s modern-day psyche, here’s a short itinerary of what you can do in Jakarta within a day.

Jakarta within a day

Start with a cuppa

Indonesia is known for its quality coffee beans, with regions like Acheh and Papua having their own distinctive beans.

Some of Jakarta’s best cafes and coffeehouses are outside the main CBD area, which may take some time to get to, considering the traffic.

So, if you want to try out the coffee without leaving the city centre, head to Djournal in Grand Indonesia – there’s a good selection of drip coffee there for you to try out. The ambiance is pretty decent too, and since it’s located in Jakarta’s version of our Pavilion (vibes and location), the crowd is pretty much young-ish. Expect a lot of Snapchat and Instastory shooting taking place around you, as you take your morning coffee.

The cafe also has a decent, albeit relatively limited range of brunch menu and sandwiches to choose from.

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After the coffee, it’s tempting to walk around the lavish Grand Indonesia mall for some shopping and people watching – it’s a great place to be, with many familiar international brands and some local names as well. There are also plenty of decent places to eat, and one thing you’ll notice about Jakarta is that a lot of them do make a serious effort to look good and dress well when spending their time in the mall. Quite a contrast from what we in KL; I, for one, prefer going to the mall in the most casual attire I could find in the wardrobe.

Enough with the mall. From Grand Indonesia, take an Uber, or as locals love to do it, Gojek (motorbike taxi) to Jakarta Cathedral.

Understanding Indonesia’s religious diversity

Indonesia prides itself as a beacon of religious tolerance, and a visit to Jakarta Cathedral and Istiqlal Mosque is a good way to understand the people’s pluralistic view towards religion.

Jakarta Cathedral, constructed during the colonial period, is a large Gothic style structure that wouldn’t look out of place in Europe. It’s still bustling with worshippers every Sunday, and acts as a symbol of strong Christian presence in the city.

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Locals worship in Bahasa Indonesia, and just outside the cathedral are Muslim hawkers selling Bakso and light snacks for hungry worshippers. Truly an image of harmony in the predominantly Muslim country (Indonesia is 80% Muslim).

Just across the road from the Cathedral is Istiqlal Mosque, one of the largest in the world. The location close to the cathedral was chosen by Indonesia’s founding father, Sukarno, to symbolise religious harmony in the then recently independent nation. Sukarno’s Pancasila assured equal rights to six major monotheistic religions. Unlike Malaysia’s constitution, Pancasila does not recognise Islam as the sole religion of the Federation, and because of this, it is often deemed to be comparatively much more secular and pluralistic in nature.

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Kota Tua – understanding Indonesia’s colonial history

Jakarta was called Batavia during the colonial period, and it derived its much of its prosperity from the bustling port of Sunda Kelapa. The Kota Tua area, which orientates around the Fatahillah Square, is the most preserved remnant of colonial Jakarta. Formerly run-down, many buildings in the area have seen successful revitalisation efforts over the recent years.

Jakarta’s Kota Tua is very touristy, however, so expect the main square to be extremely crowded during the weekend. Locals love their selfies, with many taking photos of themselves using tongsis (tongkat narsis selfie sticks). If you want to join in the fun, there are plenty of stalls selling low-grade selfie sticks, along with other cheap souvenirs.

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While buildings surrounding the main Fatahillah square are fairly well-maintained and taken care of, some of the gems of old Jakarta have sadly fallen into various stages of disrepair, like this one:

So much potential, let’s hope the authorities will do something to preserve the building as a reminder of the city’s history.

For some cooling drinks and a respite from the searing heat outside, head to Cafe Batavia, conveniently facing the main square. While the food is mediocre at best, the colonial cafe has a very Instagram-worthy interior. Expect to pay premium prices here, as this place is a tourist trap.

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Monas – still a popular hive of activities

Construction of Indonesia’s national monument (Monas) began 1961, during a turbulent chapter in Indonesia’s post-Independence history. President Soekarno wanted Jakarta to be Indonesia’s showcase capital, a manifestation of the nation’s emergence as a new regional power, and he directed for Monas, with its gilded flame of Independence on the top) to be erected during the time of tough economic situation in the country – still a controversial decision for some critics today.

Monas is still a prominent landmark in today’s Jakarta – it’s no longer the tallest edifice in the city, but it remains as an enduring symbol of the city. The parklands surrounding Monas is also extensive, and functions as the much needed green lung in the city where parks are scarce.

At night, Monas park becomes a hive of activities, popular amongst many Indonesians, especially those from the working-class backgrounds. Families picnic here during sunset, and couples sit on the benches, holding hands into the night. There are also some bikers testing their rides just outside its compounds.

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Immersive cultural experience at Dapur Babah

Five minutes from Monas is Dapur Babah Elite, a place that I have fallen in love with. Set in an old shophouse building in Gambir, the restaurant is owned by a prosperous Chinese Indonesian family. The interior is very intimate as much as it is lavish, with antiques owned by the family faithfully put on display. Dining there does feel like eating in a well-curated museum gallery.

The food is also top-notch, from the perfectly marinated sweet beef satay to the rich sup rawon, the kitchen definitely does the Indonesian rich gastronomy justice. It’s also not too pricey, considering the opulent setting – expect around Rp200,000 (MYR70) per person.

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Martabak for dessert

Martabak is a new street food phenomenon in Indonesia – it works like our apam balik, but thicker, and commonly prepared with thicker fillings. There are many variations of martabak, some of them savoury (eg cheese and meat), while others, and arguably the more popular ones, are sweet (eg Nutella, cheese & banana, Toblerone).

Martabak Boss in South Jakarta is particularly popular – I got to try this one, and their chocolate martabak is sinfully good. Expect to pay about Rp60,000 (MYR20) for a good size of martabak that can feed 2-3.

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Party with the locals

Jakartans know how to party too – clubs in the city close at 4pm. There is no centralised entertainment districts and bar strips like KL’s Changkat and Singapore’s Clarke Quay here, however, so make sure you have your Uber and Grabcar application ready if you plan to do bar hopping.

Bauhaus in Kuningan is my favourite – the crowd here is predominantly made up of friendly young professionals. The place is quite small however, and the place works more like a bar than a nightclub, so if you love dancing, this might be a deal-breaker. The space, with its small mezzanine floor, sofas and lounge seats, wouldn’t look out of place in Berlin and London.

After a drink or two in Bauhaus, head to Dragonfly for the real action. This is where Jakarta’s wealthy young socialites go to for a dance, and the steep entrance fee Rp350,000 (MYR120) means that the place is out of reach for many. The music is awesome, however, and the club’s awesome 360 degree lighting setup adds on to the experience.

I felt a little too old for Dragonfly, so Bauhaus is definitely my favourite :p

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So there you have it –

Within a day you will have seen different sides of Jakarta, from Jakarta Cathedral to Dragonfly, where the trendiest youth dance their night away, and from Soekarno-era Monas to the remnant of the Dutch colonial legacy in Kota Tua.

What this one-day itinerary shows you is the great diversity that not only Jakarta, but also Indonesia, possesses. This is by no means a monochromatic society; it is plural, artistic, rich and in many ways, tolerant – the latter, I found to be very precious.

Will be back for sure.

Speak soon,
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