Afro-Caribbean Cuisine And Mezcal For The Masses At JOLOKO
Mastication can sometimes be a chore, particularly when the first love of your life is the bottle. Yet it’s a must prior to a long night of unrelenting alcohol abuse. "Rmr 2 line ur stomach b4 we meet!" nags that one maternal friend in your group chat. "Even if it’s just a tbsp of butter. U can thank me 2moro. ;)" Sound familiar?
Worst still is when friends schedule a 7pm dinner prior to the party. Five whole hours for whiling away a meal? Let’s skip straight to the shots, shall we? But if there’s one place where dinner, drinks and dancing form an impeccable ménage à trois, it’d be Joloko in Chow Kit, KL.
Early in the evening, the bar cum restaurant appears civilised enough. One might even remark upon the cultural ornamentation. Sitting on a shelf is a Baule Goli mask from Ghana (which this wanker mistakes for a waffle maker). Patterned upholstery, pygmy palm trees, rocking rattan chairs, and a tiled kitchen remind me of the Mexican grandmother I never had. But what truly breathes life into the walls are the murals: of a two-toed beast with low-slung mammary glands; a leopard on the brink of losing its spots; and a psychedelic tiger off to catch your toe—curious creatures that begin to gambol after several drinks in.
Did someone say drinks? At Joloko, the question isn’t, “What do you stock?” but rather, “What don’t you serve?” Standouts include the Woulinewa, named for an Orchestra Baobab song in which the lead singer pleads with his lover to elope, the bone-dry Margarita-ish served with a ‘tattooed’ lime, and whatever mezcal makes co-owner Rick Joore wet.
“Hello, old friend,” I whisper to a glass of Unico Zelo’s Esoterico, while also getting acquainted with a sexy stranger called Almamezcalera Pechuga. Purportedly distilled with iguana protein, the latter is the kind of libation that inspires you to hold your breath, to preserve the moment, to take inventory of the fire and smoke swirling about your senses.
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Like the liquids at Joloko, the solids speak volumes. Cooked up by chef Timothy Jay, the loose interpretation of Afro-Caribbean fare both thrills and frustrates me. Why are Caribbean restaurants so few and far between in KL? Do we not enjoy a tropical climate, grow similar produce, incorporate the same spices in our dishes? The snapper with coconut sauce isn’t a far cry from Malay-style cooking, while I can picture my mother taking to the tostones for their vague resemblance to pisang goreng.
Just as bananas are Joloko’s disco nights—a magnet for KL’s cool cats and booze hounds—that have achieved a notoriety of their own.
A felicitous name for what’s fast become the Golden Triangle’s hottest haunt, 'Joloko’ was pinched from the Bhut jolokia, a stubby, chubby pepper that might elicit baby talk from those with green thumbs. But don’t underestimate its girth.
“The jolokia was once the world’s spiciest pepper,” says co-owner Kit Yin Chan. “But for all its prominence on the Scoville scale, it has a really beautiful flavour once you’ve surpassed the heat.”
See also: Chef Wan On Why Malaysian Food Will Always Be Number 1