Review: The Cafe that was a Brothel – Merchant’s Lane, Petaling Street Kuala Lumpur

I admit it. Despite this being a (mostly) food blog, I’m not the most up-to-date when it comes to food trends or new cafe openings – there always seems to be new ones mushrooming up somewhere or other, and not enough days to try them out (not to mention… not kind on the wallet. lol). 😀

So even though I’ve heard many good things about Merchant’s Lane in Petaling Street, it wasn’t until last week that I got to visit the place with N. It was an awesome experience – not just because of its nostalgic, atmospheric vibe, but also coz of the food and service.

There are no visible signboards proclaiming their location. Instead, we had to hunt for the cafe entrance, which was shielded by a bamboo shade in front of Kiat Leong Stationery and Trading. There we found green doors, and a narrow stairway leading up to the second floor.

The stairway was bathed in a sleazy red light – perhaps a throwback to the days when the place used to be a brothel. Walls were intentionally left chipped and flaking, with posters plastered over for events, open-mic nights and other artsy happenings galore. We got there around 1-ish and there was a short line, but we got a table for two fairly quickly.

Old school/vintage paraphernalia decorated the shelves, along with artsy items that would satisfy any hipster’s wet dream.

The main dining area was spacious and airy, with a high sloping ceiling and plenty of natural light filtering from above. Rattan chairs, paired with stainless steel tables and the blotchy concrete walls created a nice blend of modern and nostalgic, of industrial meets old-school charm.

Restaurant is popular with the urban crowd; mostly young, but also families.

Orders are made at the counter, where they have shelves lined with teas and coffees. Loved the fluorescent lights within the caged counter top design.

While waiting for our food to arrive, I did some snooping around. 😀 Haven’t seen these calendars in a long time.

Like most pre-war buildings, the space is longer than it seems, belying its external appearance. Beyond the main dining area is an outdoor patio (smoking) with several more tables and lots of shrubbery. Bunches of dried herbs and bulbs hang from the wooden beams, while a faded wall that would have looked ugly on its own is spruced up with vintage posters and flower garlands.

At the very back is a cosy nook, with incense coils acting as ceiling decorations, and large tapestries featuring vivid and colourful flower paintings. Old school wall-mounted fans spun around lazily as guests engaged in intimate conversation, snuggled on low rattan chairs. It was less crowded and noisy in this space: I can imagine spending a whole afternoon here having a cuppa with friends or the s/0.

   

Merchant’s Lane definitely scores points for ambience, but it would be poor fare if the food didn’t live up to expectations.

Thankfully, the few items we tried were satisfactory, with some clear winners. My hot Rose Honey Milk (RM12) looked too pretty for consumption : the bed of flower petals scattered over the froth was like an exquisite work of art. Finally took a sip and was pleased; milky with just a hint of honey sweetness, complemented by the subtle fragrance of flowers.

N tried their signature Hongkie Beef Stew (RM22), which is slow cooked Cantonese beef with mash and gravy. This was well done: the beef was tender and flaked apart easily, while the mash on the bottom was smooth and creamy. The sauce on first try tasted good, but after a bit it got too sweet for my liking. Could have done with a bit more texture, but overall, still a decent dish.

The Italian Chow Mein (RM21)  was a fusion of east and west: stir fried pasta with chicken Rendang. I liked the al-dente texture of the noodles, and the slightly spicy Rendang sauce with tomato (not spicy enough imo!). Again, first few bites were good but it tasted increasingly sweet towards the end for some reason. Wouldn’t say it’s the best pasta I’ve ever had, but I’d still give it a 7.5/10.

To round off the meal, we ordered the cheekily-named Better than Sex (RM18) – four thick rolls of Pandan flavoured roti jala with melted cheese, served with signature kaya toast ice cream and drizzled over with gula melaka sauce, a handful of almonds and slices of strawberry.

THIS.

The roti jala was soft and fluffy, perfect to go with the sweetish-salty ice cream and the gooey cheese. Almonds added a much needed crunch, and the thick, caramel-ly gula melaka brought everything together in perfect harmony. A good dessert to say the least!

Is Merchant’s Lane worth visiting? 

Yes, especially if you love cosy little hole-in-the-wall nooks and too-good-to-eat-looking dishes.

Food: 7.5/10 (9/10 for the dessert!)

Service: 8/10 (fast and friendly)

Ambience: 9/10 (-1 point because a bit crowded/noisy on weekends)

 

MERCHANT’S LANE 

First Floor, 150, Jalan Petaling, Off Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur.
Opening hours: (daily) 12PM – 8PM

 

 

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Author: Luna

Bibliophile/foodie. Drop me a line at erisgoesto@gmail.com

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