Few things in life are more exhilarating than sitting down in a sweltering hot restaurant, ordering a cold ice water and a banana leaf with all the trimmings. Being a yearly devotee of KL's religiously good restaurants, I happen to eat this a few times a week. It's terrible for anyone on a diet, but as i've said before " I could have been a few pounds lighter, and a few pounds richer; but food is more important to me than the perfect picture".
Delving deep into the labyrinth suburbs and streets of Kuala Lumpur, I tried quite a few famous and random places in the quest for redemption. Sadly, salvation was not at hand, but holy belly incantations were.
Here they are in all the splendour, there are no losers here, but a parade of winners:
Snuck just around the corner from the mecca of indian madness that is Leboh Ampang, Mollagaa's is located up a flight of stairs away from the incessance. The speciality here is Keralan banana leaf, and you better bring your chili-tolerance because they don't mess around. What sets this place apart from the plethora of others is their attention to detail. Everything seems just a notch up in quality from the street spots, right down to the quality and cleanliness. You can bet your bottom dollar you won't get an upset tummy here so go ahead and scoop up all that rich, spicy, deliciousness.
50A, Leboh Ampang, City Centre, 50100 Kuala Lumpur (Opens in Google Maps)
Vishal Food & Catering ($)
One spectacularly hot day, I was trying to get to a famous chapatti restaurant around the corner but they had just sold their last dough-frisbee. Forlorn and at the point of exhaustion, I turned a corner and spotted this hall. Walked in, not a single free space, however on the way in I noticed a small table outside, so I asked the waiter and he told me I could sit there. First off, a place to sit. Secondly, away from people.. this couldn't get any better. Or could it?
I ordered the regular banana leaf with some chicken curry on the side and sat watching the sad offerings at the temple across. Ten minutes later I was handed a freshly washed banana leaf and a pile of curries. A couple of minutes later my chicken curry came out fresh and steaming hot. I must have scarfed the whole thing down in 5 minutes flat, it was THAT food. Perfect flavours, heat, tang, salt levels. Everything was faultless, no wonder the place was so full when I arrived.
22, Jalan Scott, Brickfields, 50470 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
Paradise Restaurant ($$)
Sure, it's not "technically" a banana leaf restaurant, but this is down to semantics. A restaurant serving rice, curries, vegetarian dishes but on a plate instead of a banana leaf. I'll let this one slide due to the monstrously phenomenal food they serve here. A Pakistani restaurant in Bukit Bintang, usually groaning under the weight of hordes attacking them regularly for a piece of their Seekh Kebab or Malai Tikka.
I followed the pack, grabbed a plate and loaded up on curries that shimmered in the afternoon sun. Back at my table a waiter quickly calculated what I had taken and hurried off to inform the cashier. I dove in, had to put my spoon down and mutter the word "fuck" repeatedly under my breath before continuing. This is food I travel the world for, this is food I want to smother myself in moments before dying. Morons might complain about it being "oily", "simple" and they can shove their activated almond puree where the goddamn sun don't shine. This is food that Pakistani's ate at weddings, at their aunties house. It doesn't get any more authentic than this. What they are doing here is gods work.
44, Bukit Bintang Street, Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur
Sarimala Villas Chetinad Mess ($)
Sprung upon me by reading a random "best banana leaf list" online, I must have walked past this place a million times without knowing it existed. 10 meters from Mollagaa, 10 meters from Sarawana Bhavan, the reason for it's failure in soliciting my custom is the fact its in a hallway up some stairs and round a corner. All in all pretty hard to spot for a newbie. Funnily enough on the way in some Indians appeared from a door beneath the stairwell, I asked them what was in there "Secret beer room sir".
Upstairs was yet another room packed with local men shoveling kilos of plump rice and sambar into the gnashing mouths of a well oiled machine. I took my place away from most as I don't like being stared at whilst eating, ordered the banana leaf and chicken curry (my standard go-to). What turned out to be the hardest place to find, served some of the best i've eaten in KL!
A standout meals place if you like your food cheap, simple and spicy.
20-1, Leboh Ampang, City Centre, 50100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
Devi's Corner ($)
A veritable Bangsar institution, open 24hrs, serving banana leaf and stations for tandoori and dosas. The real secret here is to catch the lunchtime banana leaf upstairs in the AC room. Avoid the dosa's, they are not up to scratch.
All the curries are on the salty side, but they are tasty so you won't be disappointed if you just hydrate enough afterwards.
14, Jalan Telawi 4, Bangsar, 59100 Kuala Lumpur,
Sri Nirwana Maju ($$)
Don't even attempt to eat here during rush hours, the line will be so long that you'll resemble a piece of tandoori chicken before you manage to get out of the beating sun. Rather choose the beginning or end of service to have some relative peace. I've heard it upon good authority that this place changed hands recently and the food quality has suffered slightly, whilst the prices have shown phallic growth. Typical how that happens so often eh?
I ventured out in the late afternoon and snagged a table without much ado. The usual was ordered, along with a healthy serving of their deep fried bitter gourd (which is delicious). Everything was good, some of it was great, but none of it was fantatic. It's one of those places that is just not nuanced enough so it captures the majorities attention, whilst other seek out the ones with more acidity, chilli, punch....
43, Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar, 59100 Kuala Lumpur,
Sri Ganesa ($)
The first time I ever came to Kuala Lumpur, back in 2001, this was my introduction to Malaysian roti canai and banana leaf. Perhaps i'm prejudiced or infected with rose-tinted glasses, but this haven near Puduraya, churns out delicious food in a very scrappy environment. They won't win awards for cleanliness, but the food more than makes up for the environs.
Jalan Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, 50200
Karaikudi chettinadu mess ($)
At the end of this seemingly innocuous hallway lies a crowded den of thieves. Food thieves. Well, they pay for their meals but the food is a steal. Delicious heaps of south Indian goodness laid out flat on banana leaves, and sodden with deep curries.
For vegetarians, their veg thali's are excellent!
34 & 36, Leboh Ampang, City Centre, 50100 Kuala Lumpur,
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