The cocktails set the stage for the evening to come, but it was the food that stole the spotlight at Joloko.

You’d be forgiven to think that Joloko was just a cocktail bar specialising in tequila and mezcal. While it’s true that the cocktails here are superb – all thanks to Rick Joore, who was formerly bar manager at Coppersmith in Troika – the food menu shouldn’t be given a miss too. Fusing Caribbean flavours with African, Latin American, and Creole, you’d be hard-pressed to find another Caribbean restaurant in KL that’s on par. Read on for our review, and you’ll find out why. 

The ambience

Joloko sits along Jalan Kamunting, right next to the imposing Hotel Stripes. Housed in a two-storey pre-war building, the yellow facade with its leafy entrance is unmissable. Pre-pandemic days, you would have seen the outdoors bustling with patrons gathering around the communal table, sipping on cocktails and soaking in the tropical vibes of the resto-bar. 

Head inside and a full-fledged open bar greets you, bathed in terracotta colours, raw walls, and Mexican-inspired murals by local tattoo artist Apoh. Bottles of mezcal and tequila are on display, and you can choose to sit by the bar or at a regular table. But walk in just a bit more, and you’ll be greeted with a gorgeous courtyard bathed in natural light — the perfect setting to have your meal with. Much of the building’s original structure remains, from its long design to the skylight and courtyard area. There’s an upstairs seating area too, which is mostly reserved for events. 

Meet the brains behind Joloko. (L-R): Penny Ng, Rick Joore, Shin Chang, and Chan Kit Yin.

The drinks

As we mentioned, tequila and mezcal are the stars in this bar. You’re likely to see Joore here, and he’ll be more than happy to tell you all about the Mexican spirits and which you’ll need to try. For a good time, we recommend getting some mezcal shots. 

But since we were there for dinner, we went easy on the cocktails to start off our evening. If you like the classic Paloma cocktail and also the Mojito, be sure to check out the Paloma Faith cocktail. It’s a combination of the two classics and makes for a great aperitif thanks to its sweet and tangy flavour, balanced out with a smoky aftertaste from the tequila. 

If it’s something light you’re looking to start with, try the El Fuego Negro, a cocktail that’s pretty similar to the classic Americano (the cocktail, not the coffee) but with – you guessed it – mezcal. Think of a mezcal negroni but topped with soda for a less spirit-forward drink. Personally, it reminded me of spiked oolong tea, which is both a good and a bad thing. Great that it goes down so easily, bad that I lose track of how many I’ve consumed. 

The Woulinewa cocktail.

But perhaps a favourite for the night was the Woulinewa 2.0. An update from the bar’s original cocktail, this one features gin that’s been fat-washed with coconut oil for that rich mouthfeel alongside sherry, white cacao liqueur, lychee, fresh lime, and roasted coconut water. Creamy in texture without actually having any cream, the cocktail is also refreshing, reminiscent of sipping on a coconut that’s been fortified with extra tropical flavours. Now this, we wouldn’t mind having more of it. 

Other than cocktails, you can also treat yourself to some craft beer or a selection of organic and natural wines — the selection here is similar to what you can get over at Puro KL

The food

When trying to navigate the menu at Joloko, think of your meal as a stage play comprising several acts — your appetisers, mains, and dessert. Because sharing is caring, the dishes here are designed to be shared with your companions. All the better, we say, because how else are you going to be able to try more items off the menu? 

A clear representation of the cuisine at Joloko is the Guava Glazed Prawn Tostadas, which we found to be the perfect starters. Spicy, succulent prawns are complemented by the fava beans puree spread on the tortilla chip. It’s altogether tasty, spicy, and appetising with a slight tang. All these flavours together are the embodiment of Caribbean cuisine. Keeping the momentum going is the Crispy Pomfret with Pineapple Salsa, which makes for easy snacking while alternating with your cocktails and waiting for the main course to arrive. The pomfrets are tiny enough to crunch on, while the pineapple salsa’s acidity cuts through the deep-fried fish. 

Next up, we go into a meat frenzy with three different sources of protein: goat, beef, and chicken. The Grilled Goat Ribs from the appetisers were tender and absolutely worth getting your hands dirty with. The sweetness from the glaze on the ribs was made even better paired with shatta, a Middle Eastern chilli sauce traditionally made with jalapenos and herbs. While chicken dishes can usually be overshadowed by other meats in the menu, the Jamaican Jerk Chicken from the main courses can definitely stand on its own. Juicy, spicy, and full of flavour, the jerk marinade did its job and then some more. To make the chicken, we’d suggest getting a side of Jollof rice, a classic rice dish popular in West Africa made with tomatoes and peppers or chilli. Be mindful that it’s spicy — but that’s what makes it so good. 

As excellent as the chicken was, it was undoubtedly the US Hanger Steak that stole the show. For starters, it’s not often you come across a restaurant in KL serving the hanger cut of the cow. Its position at the front of the cow’s chest means that the texture isn’t tough, yet not too fatty. Joloko did justice to the cut by prepping it to perfection without drowning out the steak. After a simple dry rub, the hanger steak is then wrapped in kombu for a day and fired on the grill. The outsides have a nice char while the insides remain medium rare. Not quite a Caribbean-African type cuisine, but definitely worth ordering all the same. 

After all that food, it was time to end the night the right way — with dessert. Keep the spice going with the Joloko Chili Cheesecake that’s infused with ghost pepper. If you think that might be a little too funky for your tastebuds, worry not — you only feel the heat in the aftertaste, which you’ll find actually goes quite well with the creaminess of the cheesecake. 

Chef Brian is the brains and the hands in executing the food in Joloko. (Image credit: Verzac)

Verdict 

What are your chances of heading to the Caribbean or Africa soon? Extremely slim, we bet. Joloko is, we find, the best form of escapism and the closest taste we can get right now to travel to those places. Once you get past the leafy entrance, you’re not in KL anymore. The food is good and the ambience is stellar. We already knew the cocktails at Joloko are top-notch, but to have excellent food to go with the drinks makes this place difficult to ignore. 

During the CMCO, if you don’t feel like heading out to try Joloko, the restaurant is also available for delivery if you live within a 15km radius. That includes neighbourhoods like Mont Kiara, Ampang, Bangsar, and more. 

(All images courtesy of Joloko)

PohNee Chin
Editor, Kuala Lumpur
Poh Nee is the editor and writes about travel and drinks. When she's not living out her holiday dreams via Google Earth and sipping on an Old Fashioned down at the local bars, you can find her snug at home bingeing on Netflix and mystery fiction.