As the old guard is replaced by shiny armour with soulless sleeves, the memory of past is washed under fervid instagram posts. Entire neighborhoods succumb to the invasion of the hipster. Old barber shops have to compete against "Retro Barbers" with their 12 week old beards soaked in vegan oil, a canvass of (new) old school tattoo's, heavy denim and moustaches that defy gravity. The little mom and pop dumpling shop pulls its shutters down for the last time, as "Beijing Bao Babe" floods the sidewalk in balking neon and subpar food. Little by little the spirit of an entire block becomes limp and desireless.
It may sound like the venture is a complete disaster, and most of the time it is. However, sometimes, a few intrepid developers find an empty building, replete with it's faded signs, and decide to revive the inside, but respect the neighborhoods visual form. If you take an old run down building, turn the inside into a tranquil oasis and have food to match, then kudos to you. Chocha Foodstore does exactly this.
Located opposite Hawker Chan, one hundred meters from the entrance to Petaling Street Market, this stunningly un-snobby restaurant belts out superb food with ample rooms to shelter your paranoia.
Having eaten Michelin star soy chicken the day before, and spent numerous nights next door at PS150, the itch of curiosity overpowered me. It was late afternoon when I walked in, fanning myself mentally from the intense heat outside. I immediately ordered their cold brewed darjeeling tea which soothed the parchments of peril from the 85% humidity. It also gave me a moment to read the menu without the waiter standing there causing me to automatically stress and order too quickly, and then regret my decision.
The mains arrived after (i'll be honest, a good 30 minutes), but as i've often said before if its made fresh i'll wait for it. I opted for the Duck confit bowl, garnished with fresh herbs, local pickles, a soft boiled egg and duck fat barley rice.
My server was attentive but stayed at eye-length, dealing with the few stragglers who came in at this odd hour. Everything flowed like a well oiled machine, something you could tell has been drilled into the staff from the outset.
My favourite kind of restaurants are ones with a clear, consise menu, tempting you to order the lot. Chocha is like that. I struggled, weighing up whether the duck confit bowl would be as good as the Crispy Chilli Squid or Kampung Chicken, the vegetarian Eggplant Belado, Veg Bhaji's or the Jackfruit Ulam Salad?
In the end my food was exactly what the doctor ordered, light, flavour-packed and delicious. The duck was perfectly tender and juicy, the barley rice had a slight toothsomeness to it, and the freshness of the greens cut through the richness. It was a marriage of flavours that cut a tender relief from the months of local cuisine i'd been foraging for.
I paid my bill, took some final photos, resisted the temptation to pop next door for a european priced cocktail, and headed home. Next time i'm in KL, i'll force some friends to join so that I can order a bunch of items and share. That's the one negative about eating alone, you feel wasteful ordering more than you can manage just to try multiple dishes.
If it's true that chefs are the new rockstars, then these are the kind of venues I'm happy to hang out in.
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.
"Sadness is tempered by umami, grief by the motion of slurping, hope restored by the ladling of glistening, fatty broth"