Jazz at a Smoky Bar

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Thanks to anti-smoking laws, we don’t get smoky bars in Singapore anymore. While it’s great that we get to pickle our livers and avoid the risk of lung cancer at the same time, jazz bars lose a certain sense of romance without the cigar smoke. (Not that our jazz bars had much cigar smoke in the first place.)

Now in KL, there are lively, just smoky enough jazz bars. Perhaps because most of the smokers were on cigars and cigarillos, Alexis Ampang was such a place. I wish I could post the photos of the revelry but my friends would probably kill me first. Sorry!

The jazz was decent and the wine accompanying the music was even better. I started off with a Nicolas Potel Bourgogne Cuvee Gerard Potel (2006) from France. It was pale yellow with a gentle bouquet of honeysuckle, apricot and peach. Lots of soft fruit in the medium dry wine, well-balanced by slight acid on the tongue and had a long mineral finish. I liked it very much. Incidentally, Jancis Robinson gives a stamp of approval of sorts: she counts Nicolas Potel as a quality-conscious négociant. It would pair very well with seafood. Something quite restrained like seafood risotto. Rating: 5/5

For my second glass, I stayed with the whites and ordered a South African KNW Chenin Blanc (2007). It was the palest yellow you can imagine, with a lovely lime nose. It was medium dry, had a rather chewy sort of flavour, and had the mineral finish I like so much. Rating: 4/5

One of my friends had a Brightwater Nelson Sauvignon Blanc (2008.) from New Zealand. It was pale straw and had a big fruit nose. Lots of fresh lychee, peaches and honey in there. It was sweet, well-balanced with a pleasing floral finish. One of those flamboyant, straight forward, in your face wines. Rating 3.5/5

Damage done for two glasses of wine and a great night of jazz and chatter: RM 55

Alexis Bistro Ampang
Great Eastern Mall
303 Jalan Ampang
Kuala Lumpur

Key to ratings

0  Wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole
1  I’d rather drink beer
2  If there’s nothing better
3  Just one glass is fine
4  More, please!
5  Where can I get a case?

The Rib Shop at Bukit Damansara

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The last time I was in KL, my friends took me to this great place for ribs. It specialises in pork ribs and wine, a rarity for Muslim-majority Malaysia. It was a great find: generous portions, good food, great waiters. Our server was kind enough to advise us not to OD on the appetisers. We reluctantly struck the mussel pot off our order and stuck to just deep-fried fresh cheese and fried calamari. Both were freshly made and were fantastic to whet the appetite while the eight (plus one) of us chatted up a storm. It was so great to see them after that many years that I forgot to take pictures of the appetiser. My bad.

The ribs stole the show. No wonder they pride themselves on the dish. I think our table had at least four variations on the theme. First up was my special of the day — ribs braised in mushroom sauce.  That mother of all rack of ribs was completely blanketed in the mushroom cream sauce. It was just rich and creamy enough to please but not overwhelm after the twentieth (!) mouthful of the stuff. The ribs themselves were so soft you could chomp up the cartilage too and of course it was falling off the bone. No pictures of the ribs undisguised by sauce because they were unpresentable after the animals got to them.

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Also excellent was the ribs braised in red wine sauce. The same falling-off-bone tenderness, the same high standard for the sauce. I enjoyed how the red wine brought out the flavour of the ribs so well. The sides were good too. The rosemary potatoes, while ugly in the picture, scored top points for taste and sheer potato goodness. No nasty dried out roast potatoes here. The side salad also scored as the fresh mesclun lifted an otherwise stodgy dish.

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There was also barbecued rib, which is probably the classic dish for the place. It was nicely charred and smoky and I liked the all-American flavour. By the time I got my little nibble, I was probably a bit sloshed, so not much more comments on that. No picture because, as mentioned earlier, the animals. Can’t stop them.

We also had a bottle of wine shared between the four wine-drinkers. It was awful. I take full responsibility for it because I defied the server’s recommendation to get a merlot. They had a great selection of those but I felt like something more robust and ended up with a bad Malbec instead. Nobody liked it. I am ashamed and have learned my lesson.

For those still interested, here are the notes for the Finca Sophenia Reserve Malbec (2007) from the Tupungato Mendoza region in Argentina. Deep red with red berry nose. Strong hard tannins create a mouth-puckering aftertaste. Awful. Gave me a headache to boot. Rating: 0/5 (Wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole)

The bill came up to RM82.50 including the wine, RM62.50 for food only.

The Rib Shop
120-122, Jalan Kasah, Damansara Heights
50490, Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-20961645

Klang Valley BKT and more

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Bah kut teh literally translates from Hokkien as meat bone tea. There are many versions throughout Singapore and the Malaysian Peninsula but it is generally pork ribs in clear broth with either Chinese herbs or lots of pepper and garlic, never both together. The chicken version is fittingly known as chick kut teh.

My KL friend was shocked that I’d not tried the famous Klang Valley Bah Kut Teh before. He promised that he’d take me there and give this ignorant Singaporean a taste of the dry version of bah kut teh. When I went up to KL last month, we spent almost an hour driving from KL to Klang. He takes any excuse to trek out there for his BKT fix.

Lai Choon Bah Kut Teh

Lai Choon Bah Kut Teh

We’ll start with the wet version. This one is pretty standard fare, with herbal soup and the option to add more ingredients like taukee (tofu sheets) and taupok (deep fried tofu cubes). I liked the aromatic broth and the ribs were pretty succulent even though I was tricked by a piece of bone masquerading as meaty pork rib.

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The wet version

Next up was the dry version of the bah kut teh. It’s actually described as “stewed meat” on the menu and technically isn’t bah kut teh considering there’s no soup in it. It comes piping hot in the claypot, check out the steam escaping. Thick chunks of belly pork are braised in heaps of dark sweet soy sauce and the killer ingredient, dried squid. Topped off at the last moment with lettuce leaves, the combination of tender savoury meat and squidy goodness makes it totally worth the long drive out. I slurped up every last bit of gravy in the pot.

The famous dry bah kut teh

The famous dry bah kut teh

Even though we were pretty full by then, brunch is brunch, so we had to seek out the breakfast portion of it. We also had the flimsy excuse of getting some kopi to stave off post-food coma for the drive back. Kopi peng (iced local coffee) is really famous at one of the stalls in the area, so we each had one. My friend asked for his to be gao (extra thick). The coffee was rich and strong, sweetened just-so with condensed milk. Reminded me of a toned down version of Vietnamese ca phe sua da. It went down smooth and was just the thing after lunch.

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rich and satisfying kopi peng

Well, you can’t just have kopi and nothing else right? Of course we ordered kaya toast. It’s quite different from the Singapore version. This one comes in a charcoal-toasted bun and has butter spread carefully so that the whole layer melts unctuously into the kaya. And the kaya! It’s more caramel than coconut and has this intense, almost molasses flavour that isn’t over-sweet. It is so excellent I could give up my Ya Kun kaya toast for it.

Best kaya toast in Malaysia

Best kaya toast in Malaysia

Having thoroughly fortified ourselves with Klang delights, we headed back to spend the afternoon playing wii.