In Kuala Lumpur you have a few options of eating Nyonya food in the centre of town. Two of the most popular are Limablas and Limapulo, with the recent opening of Limabelas (related to Limapulo) adding to the mix and naming confusion. Uncle John (the Baba of ‘baba can cook’ fame) was/is a part of each of these enterprises.
Unsure of what a Baba is? Early Chinese settlers wed local Malay brides and gave rise to the first generation of mixed Chinese-Malays known as Peranakan, the male being referred to as baba and the female as nyonya.
Most will venture to Limablas due to its location in the middle of Changkat and Bukit Bintang. There’s a history here between all the ‘Lima-xxx.’ restaurants. Limablas was where we fell for the charms of Nyonya food. It was the first place we went for lunch on arriving in Kuala Lumpur, and with the amazing coffeeshop Feeka right next door we thought we were set.
We have taken every visitor to KL here, but unfortunately the standard has slipped with each visit. You can’t argue with the price (AU$3.50 for set lunch) and the fit out is unlike a majority of the restaurants in the city – it’s channels a great old-school atmosphere with its sepia-toned posters and vintage props) but the service that has to improve to get us to return.
We visited again just last week to ensure this was an up to date review. The fried mee hoon was nice – if a little one-dimensional in flavour – but was overly charred on the bottom with the noodles sticking together in one large noodle pancake. There were no interesting greens on the dish and only one prawn. We also ordered the jungle curry, while the curry sauce was amazing, there were only two pieces of chicken in the bowl, with one being entirely bone and no meat, plus they had once again run out of peranakan ale (a lightly sparkling ginger soft drink) which was basically the nail in the coffin for us. They could well do with reading my recent post on Malaysia’s 5 Hospitality Fails.
Uncle John left Limablas a year ago and moved his kitchen from Changkat to Heritage Row to open up Limapulo (on a parallel street to one of our favourite restaurants, the third-generation kopitiam Yut Kee).
We visited here again yesterday and from what we understand this is just a temporary site. You can see/hope that this is only a transitional location as the decor is sparse, the walls are stained and in dire need of a paint job. The big factor going for this place is that Uncle John is on hand at all times, though we are often the only people in the restaurant.
The wok at the front of the restaurant is always fired up and you can see that the team cooks everything from scratch. It’s a great place to try out dishes like Pai Tee (aka top hats).
We can’t really fault any of the cooking at Limapalu other than the most recent additions to the menu – Uncle John’s curry puffs – as these seemed to be quite stale and didn’t hit the benchmark that we have for his dishes. I look forward to his move to proper premises in the very near future but have yet to find out a specific date and location so it’s all to play for.
To clear up any confusion, Limabelas is the sister restaurant of Limapulo and has no link to Limablas – Uncle John split amicably from the current owners a few years ago. So this is the newest opening for the team in The Intermark at Ampang Park. Tee a visit up here with a coffee from Grizzly Cafe or grab one from very newly opened The Optimist – a great spot for local commuters / office workers looking for a takeaway coffee fix.
Limabelas has successfully forged their own personality in what could otherwise be an impersonal shared dining space in a food court. This might be in part due to the super-friendly bandana-wearing staff who are on the ball and always one step ahead of the game. There is better service here than we’ve found in far more expensive restaurants.
You certainly can’t complain about the portions considering the RM9.90++ price of the lunch set menu. The Nyonya laksa is a hearty bowl of creamy goodness consisting of a generous serving of noodles with fishballs, fishcakes, chicken, fresh cucumbers and half an egg. The fried mee hoon here was especially good, without the oiliness that we have found elsewhere. It’s the perfect size for lunch and the addition of chilli gives it the kick expected from this type of food.
Dessert options include a refined take on cendol (which I usually steer clear of due to the insistence of including ingredients such as whole red beans and baby corn) and the sago gula Melaka, a sweet and refreshing option.
Like Limapulo, limited serves of the laksa are only available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while mee siam pops up on Tuesday and Thursdays.
It seems like there is a solid changing of the Nyonya guard in Kuala Lumpur, and from what we’ve seen that’s a very good thing.
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