Food Review: SPG by Bijan

Discerning KL-ites will have dined at (or at least, heard of) Bijan, the grand dame of refined Malay cuisine in Kuala Lumpur. Tucked in the quiet, affluent neighbourhood of Bukit Ceylon, the cosy establishment is surrounded by lush greenery, with lots of wood and traditional elements like batik in a contemporary setting.

Now, the team has come up with an original venture: SPG by Bijan. A playful take on the colloquial term ‘Sarong Party Girl’ (Asian girl who prefers dating white men), the tapas bar and grill is housed in a bungalow, and is accessible from Bijan through an adjoining doorway.

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Where Bijan is elegant and refined, SPG is fun, chic and stylish. Floral motifs abound, as is the lush greenery of its sister eatery, alongside hand-printed tiles, batik motifs and mural walls that lend it a nostalgic feel.

 

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The menu is Malay / Asian with a twist, and the Asian-inspired cocktails offer something for both adventurous palates and lovers of classics. If you’re feeling brave, try their signature Stinkini (martini + dry vermouth + savoury notes of pickled petai) – we could literally smell it as soon as it came to the table. Other signatures include the cheekily named Yellow Fever (gin, turmeric, honey and tonic water), and Cocojito (lime, white rum, coconut water, mint leaves). There’s something for the teetotalers too, like Bluepea Tonic (honey, lemon, bluepea flower).

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It’s all about sharing with SPG’s range of ‘Malaysian tapas’. To start things off, a basket of fries celup – crispy thin cut fries served with anchovy mayo and salted egg yolk dip. They were extremely addictive, especially with the creamy, salty anchovy mayo.

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Keropok-kerepek: assortment of crackers with sambal dip

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One of the restaurant’s signature tapas is the Ah-Ran-Sini (after the Italian arancini). These deep fried golden balls of rice are stuffed with the flavours of nasi lemak, with a hearty sambal and anchovy centre.

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The Pais Barramundi grilled parcel of barramundi with banana leather, turmeric, spices and coconut – was a clever and modern interpretation of traditional flavours. I especially liked the banana leather, which had a beautiful texture, packed with the natural sweetness of banana. It went well with the light saltiness of the grilled barramundi.

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Presentation for the Ayam Limau Purut & Roti Jala Tiffin was exquisite, brought to the table in adorable tiffin carriers. The chicken curry was perfectly spiced – not too spicy but with just enough kick, and the fluffy roti jala (literally net bread – hence the shape) was great for soaking up the delicious curry.

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Jackfruit Rendang Bao is a perfect substitute for meat. The stringy texture of jackfruit is very similar to meat, and when cooked rendang-style, tastes almost like beef – all wrapped in pillowy-soft mantou buns.

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Lidah & Sambal – braised, tender ox tongue; pan-seared and served with sambal hitam. It was my first time having ox tongue. The texture was somewhat grainy and dense, but not unpleasant, and there was no offal-like taste.

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We were feeling pretty stuffed at this point, but there were still several dishes to go. The grilled calamari, served with sambal belacan, was simple but tasty, with a slight char. There was also flame-grilled duck and chicken skewers. 

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Pan-seared black pomfret with coconut and galangal sauce. I like how the fish was completely deboned for easy eating, so every bite was just fresh, juicy fish. The coconut and galangal sauce was like the Thai tom ka gai dish; creamy but not cloying.

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Grilled Lamb Loin

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And for dessert, Bananas Over Bananas – Homemade banana ice cream with smokey caramelised banana and dehydrated banana cone.

We were spoiled by the crew at SPG, so by the time we rolled (yes, rolled) out of the restaurant everyone was well and truly full and satisfied. The food, ambience and service were excellent, and the innovative approach to Malay cuisine is great.

SPG by BIJAN

3A, Jalan Ceylon, Bukit Ceylon, 50200 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 12pm – 12am (daily)

Reservations: 03-2022 3575

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Review: Bacchus Wine & Tapas Bar @ The Row, Jalan Doraisamy KL

[UPDATE: This restaurant is permanently closed]

KL-ites and foodies are always looking for the next hangout spot, and the chic, artsy The Row @ Jalan Doraisamy KL, converted from a row of old shophouses, fulfils all criteria. Located just next to Sheraton Imperial KL, visitors will find cafes, eateries, restaurants and art galleries within a short stretch of buildings. One of these is Bacchus Wine & Tapas Bar, the place to go for affordable but quality wines, paired with excellent Spanish tapas.

Bacchus is the name of the Greek god of wine, and here is where you’ll find plenty – over 250 kinds of red, white and rose wines from Spain, Italy, Australia, Georgia and New Zealand, among others. The cosy dining area, which is perfect for intimate sessions with friends and family, is bathed in soft yellow lights. Furniture is of the wooden variety with dark grey walls, tastefully decorated with wine bottles and crates.

In one corner, a black leather couch sits underneath a shelf lined with their best selling wines, such as the Perth CEO range from Australia’s Barossa Valley and Margaret River. Neighbouring tables rang out with laughter over the clink of cutlery and wine glasses. A group of colleagues, still dressed in office attire, were enjoying a night out with food, drinks and company. It’s central location makes it a popular haunt with the office crowd.

Bacchus owner Kenneth Gan says: “Wine is always seen as expensive, or ‘high end’. My idea is to make wine affordable so that people can enjoy it at every meal.  Gan, who is part of a 1000-strong wine club, says that Bacchus was conceived because club members needed a place to run events, club gatherings, wine tasting sessions and to share ideas, knowledge and history on the alcoholic beverage.

Noticing that many people seemed to be turned away by the idea of drinking wine due to its perception of being ‘expensive’, Gan started sourcing for wines that were affordable and value for money, especially those priced between RM80 to RM200 but were still of good quality. Prices on the menu range from as low as RM75 per bottle to RM200 and above. They also carry vintage wines costing thousands.

The open bar area.

We paid a visit upstairs where events and functions are held.

Enough sightseeing – it was time to tuck in to the food and wine. To kick off the night, we tried a white wine called Santa Luz Alba Chardonnay 2013 Valle Central. Gan taught us newbies the proper way to hold a wine glass: at the stem instead of cupping it, as our body temperature would affect the taste.  The wine was slightly sweet, with a fruity flavour and tart aftertaste.

Bacchus delivers with the formidable chef Angie Hiew, a pioneer behind Spanish restaurant Flamenco and who has over 20 years of culinary experience.We sampled the Gambas Al Ajillo, or Garlic Prawns (RM18). Sizable prawns, cooked to a beautiful orange, was topped with loads of crispy fried garlic and drizzled over with oil. It looked simple, but tasted divine as the fragrant garlic brought out the sweet seafood flavour.

Next came the Salmon Namasake with Wasabi Mayo (RM18). The sashimi, served with spicy wasabi, was prepared with salmon belly which was fresh and fatty.

We were lucky to savour the Braised Pork Belly (RM18), their best selling dish. It gets so many orders that the kitchen has to limit it to just 50 sets a day! Preparation is time consuming, as the pork has to be braised for three hours, before it is lightly seared to seal in the juices.The thick slices of belly came soaked in a light but flavourful consomme, along with broccoli, carrots and cherry tomatoes.

It was heaven at first bite. The meat was extremely tender; melting on the tongue like cotton candy. I literally closed my eyes as I ate it – it was that good!

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One thing the place prides itself in is in their sauces, which are all prepared in-house. “We don’t buy any of them. We even make our own mayonnaise,” Gan proclaimed.Other offerings at Bacchus include beef meatballs, fried calamari, tortillas, chorizos and bruschetta; all perfect finger food to munch on while sipping on a glass of wine.

The next step, according to Gan, would be to introduce a larger variety of tapas and wine pairings, with Thai, Japanese and even Chinese cuisine. He hopes to shift the perception on drinking from beer, whisky and cognac to wine as a mainstream beverage.

“If you get a bottle of wine here among friends, you might be paying only RM15 per pax, which is about the same as a juice or coffee,” he said.

BACCHUS WINE BAR

52, The Row, Jalan Doraisamy, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 012-330 7712

Business Hours: Mon – Thurs (12pm – 12am), Sat (4pm – 2am) Closed on Sundays.