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Digest A Tribute To The Original Coliseum Café KL, Which Would Have Turned 100 This Year

A Tribute To The Original Coliseum Café KL, Which Would Have Turned 100 This Year

coliseum
The Coliseum Kuala Lumpur has been serving diners since it first opened in 1921. (Photo: Coliseum KL Facebook)
By Terence Toh
June 09, 2021
This landmark culinary institution will be remembered fondly by all its diners

For 99 years, the Coliseum Café and Grill House in Kuala Lumpur stood strong, serving its trademark Hainanese-Chinese cuisine to scores of hungry diners.  

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. The beloved colonial restaurant recently announced it would be shutting down for good, after its tenancy agreement in a pre-war building along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman expired. This was just a few months short of what would have been its 100th anniversary. Three other Coliseum outlets, in Petaling Jaya, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, will remain open.

See also: 5 Colonial Cottages In Malaysia For A Nostalgic Countryside Staycation

This news was greeted with dismay as Coliseum Café holds a special place in many of its loyal patrons' hearts. There’s a lot about it to cherish, from its sizzling steaks and fish concalaise to its antique furniture and Wild West-saloon style bar. We asked a few of these patrons to share their fondest memories of this culinary institution.

See also: 10 Famous Malaysian Street Foods Craved Worldwide

"It wasn’t the service or the sizzling steaks served with pomp and circumstance. (In fact, the former was often dour and the latter overcooked.) It was the feeling of being suspended in time, of harking back to one’s youth, even if those years weren’t yours to begin with. It was the sparkle in my mother’s eyes when she told my siblings and I about scrounging cents to treat herself at Coliseum Café.

The funny thing is that when we supped there, she’d still gravitate towards her creature comforts, namely fried bee hoon served with an obscene amount of cili padi (she still loves her rice vermicelli, but can no longer handle the heat) instead of something ‘novel’ as say, Fish Concalaise (perch under a blanket of cream sauce) or the Gourmet Chicken Burger (tinned pineapple lent a touch of ‘exoticism’).

Coliseum Café was where my younger brother might have had his first mocktail (I only remember my sister and I giving him hell for ordering the Minnie Mouse, a gruesome concoction of Sprite and strawberry ice cream) and where I, as a child drawn to textures, marvelled at the softness of the cloth napkins, which on my last visit, had been replaced by pink plasticky serviettes. My only regret is not trying the pot pies, which required advance planning; the problem is that we’d only remember their existence on our next visit."

— Samantha Lim, Tatler Malaysia's Dining Editor

 

"My thoughts about the Coliseum as a kid: Why is this place so FAR? I lived in Petaling Jaya as a boy, and my family usually went to nearby eateries every time we wanted to dine out. Travelling more than 10 minutes to eat was asking a lot for a restless 11-year-old—and a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, technically another state away? Ridiculous!

Today, a trip from Petaling Jaya to Kuala Lumpur is nothing. I have since driven much further, and to far more exotic places, just to eat. But the Coliseum will probably always be my first memory of going on a food journey.  My father liked the place, so we would visit about once a month.

I remember the place fondly: its old school colonial decor, its well-worn yet soft tablecloths, the white-shirted waiters who were either very friendly or very brusque. It was where I first discovered steak, where I added words like ‘ribeye’ and ‘sirloin’ to my vocabulary, and learnt the difference between medium rare and medium well. I have fond memories of their Garlic Steak in particular. Usually, however, I would order the Hainanese Chicken Chop, sometimes with a soup or a dessert. Looking back, I wish I had been a bit more adventurous with their menu!"

— Terence Toh, Tatler Malaysia's Dining Editor

Related: 10 Restaurants In The Klang Valley To Visit When You Need A Good Steak

coliseum
Shida with her parents and in-laws at the Coliseum KL in 2011. (Photo: Shida Mahadi)

"On one of my parents' first few visits to Kuala Lumpur when I moved here in 2011, I wanted to take them to a place that was a little different from your run-of-the-mill eateries, and somewhere in city centre. My in-laws also wanted to show my parents my husband’s childhood home, a shophouse in Masjid India. And that was how we ended up in Coliseum.

I remembered stepping in and feeling like I was in some sort of time warp or alternate universe. The furniture, the flooring, the bar, even the menu looked like they belonged to bygone era. And I loved it. And the food... the sizzle of the steak on the hot plate as you poured the gravy on it, and the stuffed crabs! I can still remember the taste. I also remember my mum enjoying her stuffed crabs immensely. She used to rave about them because it’s a really special item not found in most restaurants’ menus.

My mum is gone now and one of the memories that I cherish with her is our meal at The Coliseum. So I’m a tad bit sad that I will now have to say goodbye to Coliseum too."

— Shida Mahadi, Tatler Malaysia's Head of Events

"My late father was a businessman and he had many British associates and they loved to drink. They would start drinking around noon at the Long Bar in Selangor Club and end up at the Coliseum bar by late afternoon. I remember meeting him there sometimes, relieved to be away from the oily smoke that filled the air in the dining hall next to the bar from the famous sizzling steak. He would sit there till about 6pm before heading home.

Many regulars would drop by and it was like a social club without having to make appointments. He was good friends with the cartoonist Lat and they always hang out there. There was a funny cartoon that Lat drew of my dad that hung on the wall."

— Lissa Yeoh, Good Food Trio co-founder

Related: 15 Cafés In Malaysia For The Best Instagram Photos
 

"We were supposed to revisit you on your 100th anniversary. Ready to enter your smoky dining room, with bibs around our necks, and savour your steaks and sides served in hot plates. Not exactly a fan of that type of service, but hey, this is such an iconic place in KL. Not all establishments get to go beyond a century. It would have been a worthy celebration.

However, for now, the memories of last year’s pilgrimage will do. Khai and I cherished every second of it during our heritage-themed visit to Kuala Lumpur just before the nation’s first lockdown. Seated on squeaky wooden chairs, he had the schnitzel, and I had the chicken chop. We toasted—above your crisp white linen-covered table—to good health and longevity with average-quality Singapore Slings.

Coliseum Café, if you ever open a sale of your assets to the public, I want to secure one of those leather seats in your hotel lobby. Or a set of your plates emblazoned with your moniker in red. Though we will miss the opportunity to dine in your classic hall, we sure will remember the good times there. Thank you for the meal, and the chance to raise a glass in a place filled with immense history. You are a national icon. Farewell!"

— Ben Uzair, KK12FM 89.5 radio host

Related: 5 Restaurants & Cafés In Petaling Jaya That Are Great For Social Distancing

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Digest Coliseum Kuala Lumpur Hainanese cuisine precolonial restaurant Tatler editors restaurant closure Terence Toh Samantha Lim Lissa Yeoh Ben Uzair Coliseum closing heritage building

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