Where to stay, eat and drink in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Beyond Kuala Lumpur's shopping malls, Lara Dunston finds a flourishing third-wave coffee scene, tailored food tours and charming neighbourhoods.

By Lara Dunston
Villa Samadhi
Villa Samadhi
Clad in thatched grass, salvaged timber and styled in earthy tones, Villa Samadhi is the perfect antidote for travellers with an aversion to the skyscrapers that house most KL hotels. Concealed by towering bamboo, this boutique hotel is only 10 minutes' drive from the central shopping district of Bukit Bintang, yet feels as relaxed as a Langkawi resort. The pick of the 21 rooms that wrap around the lagoon pool is The Loft, with an attic bedroom, plunge pool and views of the neighbourhood. 8 Persiaran Madge,
The Majestic Hotel
Built in 1932 and ideally located for exploring colonial-era KL, The Majestic retains its heritage in the original Majestic Wing - book The Straits Room, with timber floors, Art Deco furnishings and claw-foot bathtub - and has a Tower Wing extension with 253 modern rooms. 5 Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin,
Brickfields is KL's Little India, home to Hindu temples, shrines and the city's oldest ashram. It's peppered with sari shops, yoga studios, Bollywood music stores and beauty salons such as Vanni's*(233a Jalan Tun Sambanthan), which specialises in mehndi henna designs on feet and hands, and "banana-leaf rice" restaurants, where Indian thalis are served on banana leaves and eaten with fingers. Brickfields' best breakfast is roti banjir, roti canai topped with curry, dhal, sambal and two soft eggs; try it at Mansion Tea Stall(Selangor Mansion, 2 Lorong Bunus Satu, off Jalan Masjid India). And don't miss Hundred Quarters(Jalan Chan Ah Tong)*, a row of 1920s buildings, scheduled for demolition.
Learn how to make char siu bao, steamed roast-pork buns, from one of the last traditional bao makers in KL and try specialties such as laksa, char kway teow, Indian roti, and teh tarik (pulled tea) on a four-hour Kuala Lumpur Street Food Tour with Malaysian guide Pauline Lee, of Simply Enak. Lee also hosts a Flavours of Malaysia Tour, giving guests a taste of murtabak, pan mee, satay, and roti canai in out-of-the-way neighbourhoods such as Chow Kit.
KL's third-wave coffee movement has blossomed in recent years, especially in hip Bangsar village, in the former Art Printing Works (APW) in the Telawi district. Cold-brew coffee is popular at Pulp, owned by Singaporean coffee specialist Papa Palheta. Opposite Pulp is whitetiled Breakfast Thieves, opened last year by three young Malaysians as a sister to Melbourne's Fitzroy café of the same name; order Australian-style breakfasts with Asian touches, such as eggs Benedict with braised beef cheeks and yuzu hollandaise. Its coffee of choice is magic, a double ristretto topped with steamed milk. APW also houses Agak Agak, a modern Malaysian training restaurant for disadvantaged young people, 52 Barbers for beard trims, and Case Study for creative botanical-based cocktails. APW, 29 Jalan Riong, Bangsar.
Mercat Barcelona Gastrobar
The mess hall-like interior (replete with plastic sauce bottles and paper napkins) is an unlikely setting for the impressive Catalan dishes by owner-chef David Caral. Start with a gin cocktail and jamón Ibérico croquetas. Fingers crossed boquerones en vinagre is on the menu, a specialty of anchovies in white-wine vinegar with roast capscium and almond cream. 51G Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar.
Troika Sky Dining
Coppersmith is a dramatically lit bar mixing inventive cocktails; Fuego is an adjacent terrace serving casual Latin American dishes. Along with wine bar Claret, fine-diner Cantaloupe, and Italian bistro Strato, they comprise Troika Sky Dining, popular with well-heeled Malaysians. Level 23a, Tower B, The Troika, 19 Persiaran KLCC,
Lot 10 Hutong
Make a beeline for this upscale hawker centre. Try the pork-ball soup made with Mr Lee Yuen Song's 1969 recipe at Imbi Road Original Pork Noodles, and wonton noodles and sticky char siu at Ho Weng Kee. LG, 50 Jalan Sultan Ismail,
The Free Art Space at Isetan Japan Store, in the redesigned Lot 10 Mall, offers workshops in skills ranging from making mini wagashi to ikebana and Japanese calligraphy, and shows art exhibitions. Lot 10, 50 Jalan Sultan Ismail
Drive 90 minutes north of KL to the picturesque fishing village of Sekinchan, surrounded by paddy fields, feast on freshly caught seafood such as fiery flash-fried chilli prawns, and watch the sunset from Redang beach.
  • undefined: Lara Dunston