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.

A short island hop: Bunga Raya Resort, Gaya Island

A few friends and I was in Sabah last weekend – we were there for Glenn’s farewell, plus Falah was in Malaysia for a month, so a getaway was what we needed.

It was a short trip so we didn’t have much time to spend at the beach – but since we were in Sabah it would be sacrilegious not to do so at all, so we figured out, a day trip would be nice.

And we had a good time: Here’s a short daytrip itinerary to Gaya Island that you guys could probably follow as well.

There are several islands that you can choose to go for a daytrip; Manukan, Sapi, Mamutik, Suluk, Gaya…

We decided to take up a half-day package at Bunga Raya Island Resort – a secluded 5-star property, complete with a private beach.

We headed to the Jesselton Point jetty right after a breakfast of Sarawak laksa (yeah KK has that too!). The boat left at 1030am, and payment for the trip had to be made prior to boarding.

It was about RM170 per person, for a 4-hour excursion at the Bunga Raya Resort. This is all-inclusive, which means that boat ride, lunch, pool access and facility rental is all covered.

The jetty is equipped with basic facilities, there are also stalls selling run-the-mill snacks and packed meals, in case you want to bring some nasi lemak and mihun goreng to the island. Nothing fancy, but adequate.

The washroom stank, however. As Falah described it “poops everywhere”. Quite embarrassing, considering that the facility caters to tourists – the management needs to do something about it.

The boat ride took us about 20 minutes. It’s a very scenic ride to the island – the weather was fantastic that day. The five of us shared the boat with a group of French tourists.

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We reached Bunga Raya Resort and I was pleasantly surprised at how quiet the place is. It’s perched nicely atop a gentle bay, surrounded by forested hills. We were given a short brief and access to the facilities – there are kayak and paddle boats for those who fancy something more adventurous. There’s also facility for snorkelling.

There are of course plenty of lounge seats and gazebos where you could just sit down, relax and enjoy the sea breeze.

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Bunga Raya Resort has a limited number of accommodation units available. It prides itself as an eco-friendly resort, so the chalets and villas are all designed to blend seamless with the natural setting – non-obstructive architecture.

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Given the remote location, 4G worked wonderfully here – so if your idea of travelling includes taking plenty of Instastories, you’ll be happy here.

There’s a beach bar there for those who fancy a tipple or two – drinks are unfortunately (yet understandably) not included in the half-day package tab, so be prepared to pay premium prices here. A coke costs RM19, while a cocktail, RM40.

There’s no ATM machine, so it’s probably safe to bring some cash with you.

Lunch is included in the package – it’s a 3-course meal, with soup of the day, two choices of salad and three choices of main course – between fish & chips, lamb shank and chicken wings. Be prepared to wait though – we waited for 40 minutes to get our order served. The wait was quite unfortunate as we only had 4 hours to enjoy on the island, so time is precious lol.

The lamb shank came, it’s delicious. Worth the penny and the calories of course.

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Right after lunch, we just lounged at the beach and took a dip in the infinity pool. There were some drinks involved too, so it was perfect. We had the whole pool to ourselves, with the exception of a couple of guests who came for a short dip. We also saw a gay family enjoying a vacation at the resort – nice to see an idyllic scene of fathers watching their children play at the beach.

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We stayed there until half past three – walked to the pier and felt quite sad to leave. If you do feel like treating yourself with an expensive vacation, you can choose to stay overnight at the resort. A room costs upwards of RM1,000 during off-season, so be ready to splurge.

More pictures below. Enjoy!

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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