A wooden box holding a metal grill, charcoal and skewered meats arrive at the table. The smoke wafts in a gentle arabesque, hinting at the gustatory pleasures that’s to come.
It’s a scene that’s standard in upscale Japanese restaurants where yakitori is served on a hibachi. But this isn’t yakitori or a Japanese establishment that we’re talking about here, but satay — those morsels of juicy marinated meat cooked over charcoal.
Such is the contemporary take on food that Enak KL offers. The 13-year-old modern Malay restaurant, whose name means delicious in Malay language, has just moved a few doors down while still remaining at the lower ground floor of Starhill Gallery.
Gone are the white walls and tables draped in red fabric. Instead, the vibe here is casual yet polished. This is thanks to an open-concept dining area, while the plush and inviting seats come in hues of walnut brown and chartreuse green.
Gone too are the pristine white plates that characterise modern dining for too long. In its place? Wooden boards and tangles of fresh herbs for garnish, coconut shells holding kerabu (salads) and glossy bowls that reflect the plating aesthetics of this day and age.
Yet all this would be for naught if the food can’t rival what’s traditionally always been available. Indeed, Kuala Lumpur is home to plenty of humble stalls and hole-in-the-wall shops serving up Malay food so delicious, your toes would curl. Few, however, are contemporary spaces that you could bring an out of town colleague for dinner or conducive enough to have a business lunch.
We dropped down for lunch one day, we’re elated to report that Enak KL ticks both boxes.
For starters, the range of kerabu – a new addition to the menu — is as varied as it is refreshingly delicious. Take for instance the kerabu jambu air ikan bilis (RM20). Here, the sweetness of rose apples is amplified with honey, given a touch of umami by way of dried anchovies that’s kicked up a notch with lemongrass and bird’s eye chillies.
Another stunner is the kerabu pucuk paku (RM15) where fiddlehead fern and slivers of chicken are dressed with musk lime juice, roasted grated coconut and chillies. Both salads are not just the perfect start to a meal — they offer a glimpse of the kitchen’s ability to balance flavours.
That same balance is also seen in another new section of the menu: the grills. These are fresh fish ranging from grouper to red snapper that’s seasoned with a secret spice mix, wrapped in a banana leaf to seal in its juices and then grilled. It comes accompanied with variations of sambal — air asam jawa, kicap cili padi, sambal belacan and sambal hijau to be precise, served in small platters on a dark wooden board.
Another standout is the daging rusuk (RM65) — or beef ribs that’s been marinated overnight and braised at 120 degrees for four hours, then finished off on the grill. The result? A fork-tender slab of meat that seemingly melts in the mouth while the outside has a crispy caramelised texture.
These meats would be a little dry without a gravy of some sort, and for that, there’s the udang masak lemak (RM45). Here, tiger prawns are braised to a succulent perfection; its sweet flesh is lacquered with the umami of the rich turmeric and coconut gravy.
Traditionalists might baulk at seeing old favourites being given a gentrified spin, but there is always a time and a place where going fancy fits the occasion. There aren’t too many establishments that can match up Enak KL’s quality and comfort. It’s certainly more upscale than popular chain Serai without broaching the ramparts of formality that rival restaurant Bijan offers.
Enak KL truly deserves its name.
Monday to Sunday
12pm — 3pm, 5:30pm — 10:30pm
Recommended dishes: Daging rusuk, udang masak lemak, kerabu jambu air
Price: RM100++ per person.
Noise Level: Mellow.
Service: Attentive and helpful.