Sunday, December 30, 2007

K.L. Malaysian Restaurant

K.L. Malaysian Restaurant is located, a few blocks west of Sharpstown Mall on Bellaire, in a red brick house. In Malaysia, "K.L." is the frequently-used abbreviation for Kuala Lumpur, a spectacularly modern city with some of the world's tallest skyscrapers.

In contrast, K.L. Restaurant is not very urban, just quaint. The interior feels like someone's home. Although I don't know that they are related, the staff seem like a welcoming family.

K.L. is cheap. It has a large menu that is a good introduction to Malaysian cuisine.

Malaysian Plate Lunch (Breakfast) - Nasi Lemak

A good way to start, at lunch on weekdays, is the $4.95 plate called Nasi Lemak. In Malaysia, this is a popular dish for breakfast, but for Western tastes, it makes more sense as lunch. The central ingredient is a large pile of rice, soaked in coconut milk and then steamed. The rice is surrounded by small servings of various condiment-like ingredients: beef curry, tofu, tiny dried anchovies, sliced cucumber, and a hard boiled egg.

The dish reminds me of a traditional Hawaiian plate lunch -- a mixed variety of dishes surrounding a serving of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad. The Malaysian version does not have the macaroni salad, but the idea is similar. Overall, the flavors of this dish are salty and savory. No single condiment stands out, but the overall mix is satisfying.

Interesting starters

K.L. serves a wonderful starter dish for $2.95 called roti canai -- lightly grilled flatbreads with a spicy curry dipping sauce. The bread reminds me of Naan, but it is much softer. The grilled flavor of the bread, and the spicy heat of the sauce, make this dish highly addictive.

When I brought my daughter, she ordered KL fish cakes. She probably was expecting fried fish. Instead, the fish had been pulverized, resulting in a smooth, gelatinous texture, with bits of onions and vegetables. On the exterior was a very thin, unbattered, fried crust. I appreciated the unusual textures of this dish. My daughter appreciated the spicy sweet and sour sauce served with it.

Main courses

Malaysian food is a crossroads for the flavors of India, China, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. This is evident in the flavors of K.L.'s main courses.

Shrimp sambal is made with a paste-like sauce of chili, shrimp paste, salt, sugar, and lime. The flavors resemble the food of Thailand, or even Vietnam. The shrimp I tried were surprisingly high quality; they actually tasted like shrimp. This is the most flavorful dish I have had at KL.

Rendang beef is made with a curry paste. The flavors resemble an Indian curry, but include southeast Asian flavors. In the west, we are used to wet curries, often made from coconut milk. This curry is more of a paste. It is full of spices, and some coconut paste, but is not particularly hot. I like the fact that KL serves its beef medium to medium rare. But for my tastes, the beef is a little tough, with a consistency resembling a flank steak. The dish would benefit from a better cut of steak, or more tenderizing. Yet given the tasty curry, the large quantity, and the $6 or so price tag, the dish is steal.

I recommend K.L. if you are a fan of cheap Asian food, or like taking your friends to tasty ethnic dives that you can claim credit for discovering. But I also recommend it if you are interested in Malaysian cuisine. Houston has had several new Malaysian restaurants in the past few years, and hopefully we will soon see even more of this fascinating food.

Update 7.8.09. K.L. has closed. Houston has few Malaysian food restaurants left. In the Bellaire Asia Town, we have Banana Leaf and Cafe Singapore. Sugarland has Nonya Cafe. As far as I know, that's it.


Anonymous said...

KL has amazing (and spicy) noodle dishes as well. Their curry mee/assam laksa soups are really delicious- great comfort food in winter-time. The chow kueh teow (a flat, broad noodle dish) and mee goreng (fried but thinner noodles) are also good as well (if your coronaries can handle it).

I prefer KL to Malay Bistro ( I like the quiet calming family atmosphere better- Malay Bistro is a little more hip in terms of decor but they have great, authentic food as well. I would try their bah kut teh (pork bone tea soup) and their fish wrapped in banana leaf.

Anonymous said...

You know, it had never occurred to me until I read this review that I'd never had Malaysian food before. And now I can't wait to get over there to try some! Thanks for broadening my horizons today. :)

Anonymous said...

If you like Malay Bistro and KL, you're going to love Cafe Malay on Westheimer, I would say, hands down, best malaysian food (especially the nasi lemak and whole fish steamed in banana leaf) in Houston.

anonymouseater said...

Thanks k and jyu for your comments. I'm interested in Cafe Malay. But someone said last week on b4-u-eat that Cafe Malay "has a new owner who is converting it into a Japanese restaurant." Does anyone know whether that is true?

Anonymous said...

I had lunch at KL Malaysian Restaurant today and im a happy puppy. I lived in Singapore for a while and have been craving for Malay food for the longest time .... I had the Roti Chanai which is so light and buttery that i would have eaten all of it... but I also ordered the Chicken Rice - a simple enough dish but one that is so easily mangled by bad cooks.

KL's Chicken Rice was good ... the rice was perfectly seasoned and well prepared, the chicken was tender and cooked all the way through. I loved the dipping sauce but I was looking for the plum sauce that I used to have with my chicken rice back in Singapore. Thats a minor drawback though as the food was cheap, plentiful and good. The service, if a bit rushed was friendly and warm.

This is a good place if youre into down home places that serve authentic good food.

Anonymous said...

Just some history on the KL Malaysian Restaurant: it previously housed Co Po Lo, a Cantonese-style place, with a very similar home feel. Great to go to late at night (they were open til 2 am). Co Po Lo has since moved to the Diho Market strip (where Welcome grocery store is). We still call it Co Po Lo, but the owner kept the name of the former restaurant that was there - I think it's Shanghai Restaurant, or some such. Still has Cantonese food though!

KL is nice home cooking, and makes us nostalgic for the time we did live in KL.

Anonymous said...

I had lunch at Cafe Malay and the lady said they were just gonna add a Sushi Bar and some Japanese dishes. I havent gone back after their three day closure for the renovations to confirm though.

On a related note, Cafe Singapore opened in Bellaire in between Cook Road and Dairy Ashford. It serves mostly Malaysian/Singaporean food and I got dinner there last night. Pretty good .. and they serve Kaya toast which is one of my ultimate comfort foods. They also have a good Milk Tea.

If im not mistaken the owners of this place used to own Cafe Nonya or something like that.

Anonymous said...

We go to Café malay very often ..
But heard it was going to specialize in japanese cuisine and we ended up in KL for malay cuisine and we order roti canai, fish cake, beef rending and flounder in banana leaf and chicken fried rice ..
All reading after ur review..
Sorry to say that we were very disappointed ..
The beef wasn’t cooked well, the fish was nothing like in café malay and the rest were just ok..

Anonymous said...

Visited Cafe Singapore at 12345 Bellaire Boulevard today.

Would recommend Singapore Chicken Rice and Shrimp Char Kway Teow.

Chicken rice is best I have had in Houston. Tried KL Malaysia Restaurant at Bellaire and Nonya Grill at Missouri City. Cafe Singapore's chicken rice still the best. Kudos to the rice and chilli!

Shrimp Char Kway Teow is good. Quite authentic... Close to the ones in Singapore.

Hot milk tea is also recommended. Thick and not so sweet.

Anonymous said...

My family went to Cafe Singapore recently. Overall food was good except we had to wait quite a while for our meals. I was very disappointed that they do not have prawn mee, as that's my most favorite dish (we had lived in Singapore for almost 6 years). My daughter's favorite dish is laksa and they don't have that either. Hainanese chicken is a bit tough, though flavor is good.

Anonymous said...

I used to frequent Cafe Malay....but have not been since the closure for renovations and rumors of a new owner....
After reading the recent reviews and that it is still the same Cafe Malay (except perhaps for the addition of a sushi bar?), I'm anxious to return!

I love their tofu clay pot and mee goreng. The Roti Canai and Chicken Satay are great appetizers, and the pulut hitam is one of my favorite desserts!

Everything I've had at Cafe Malay has been equally authentic to what I ate in KL. Yum!

Anonymous said...

I really liked the food at and . It is sad to see that they are no longer open for business. Does anyone know if this is temporary or permanent? I last visited in and was the last time I ate at the .

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the previous post - the HTML tags didn't work:
I really liked the food at Nyonya Grill and K.L. Malaysian Restaurants. It is sad to see that they are no longer open for business. Does anyone know if this is temporary or permanent? I last visited Nyonya Grill in Feb 2009 and March 2009 was the last time I ate at the K.L. Malaysian Restaurant.