The Top 20 Restaurants In Malaysia In 2021
Routinely released every December, the Tatler Dining Guide and our announcement of the top 20 restaurants in the nation have seen a month-long hiatus owing to Covid-19 complications. Regardless of the hold-up, we are thrilled to finally reveal the winners; despite experiencing dark and difficult times, these restaurants managed to maintain—and even elevate—dining standards.
Find out who won, why they won, and when you can get a table as soon as lockdown is lifted. An asterix (*) denotes a new addition to the Top 20 list. All the winners are listed in alphabetical order and numbers are not weighted.
Throwback: The Top 20 Restaurants In Malaysia In 2020
1/20 *Akâr Dining
Affordability and quality don’t often go hand in hand, but when they do, popularity is never far off. A newcomer to Kuala Lumpur’s dining scene in 2020, Akâr Dining has quickly ascended to the forefront of everyone's 'must try' list, for who can resist four-course degustations for just RM160+?
From tantalising starters bathed in oyster foam to refreshing palate cleansers such as a toddy and sake granita, Chef Aiden Low’s dishes strike the right balance between 'challenging' and 'comforting'. Leave your wines at home, as Akâr’s beverage list is well curated and reasonably priced.
2/20 A Li Yaa
The irony is palpable—while most of us are bound to one country in these unusual times, mud crabs still receive the rockstar treatment on international airlines. Bypassing travel restrictions, the prized crustaceans are freshly flown in from Sri Lanka for the benefit of A Li Yaa’s diners. You can choose to have your crabs in a multitude of styles; keep returning to discover your personal favourite. Carrying a healthy tinge of spice, the curried crabs pair well with rice, bread or puttu, steamed cylinders of coconut and rice.
A Li Yaa’s presence in Kuala Lumpur also spells an easier time for us when deciding where to dine out with plant-based pals. The cashew nut curry, for instance, is so robust that you won’t even miss the meat.
3/20 DC Restaurant
From the day you ring the restaurant to make reservations to that final bite of dessert, the DC experience is always highly anticipated. Some opine that the cuisine could be a mite more adventurous, but dishes such as the Cold Capellini and Hitacha Japanese A5 Wagyu are exactly what the doctor ordered.
Sure, the lofty price tag comes with high expectations, but the quality of ingredients is second to none, and the wine selection is limited by your depth of your pocket rather than your imagination—on a recent visit, we were delighted to see some trending small winemakers on the list. Plus points go towards the thoughtful staff for offering substitute ingredients to a mother-to-be in our party.
4/20 Entier French Dining
"Half of the joy of eating at Entier is simply looking at the food," a regular once told us. "They definitely have the best plating in KL." We couldn’t agree more. But every second spent admiring Chef Masashi Horiuchi’s cooking is time wasted not eating it. So dig in: there’s pan-seared chicken with prawn ravioli at lunch, whole Maine lobster with fresh chestnuts and fermented coffee during dinner, and dark chocolate desserts at all times. On this last note, the rich soufflé does Chocolate Concierge's exceptional cacao justice.
If we had to award an individual dish for ingenuity, however, it would be the Josper-grilled white sweet corn. A bit of a trompe l'oeil, the vegetable dish resembles corn on the cob, but pull back the leafy green husks and you'll discover individual kernels of corn swimming in truffle butter and parmesan cheese. Give it a good squeeze of lime juice and dig in.
To serve pork-free fare at Fuego is truly a trial by fire, especially when pork forms the cornerstone of most South American cuisines. Nevertheless, what Fuego lacks it makes up for in other ways. As the popular proverb goes, "Limitations breed creativity."
Some dishes see a local slant, such as the Super Spicy Guacamole (don’t say you weren’t warned) amped up by bird’s eye chilis and served with vegetable chips; have a Margarita within arm's reach when enjoying this fiery version of the Mexican dip.
From Angus beef back ribs to whole seabream, Fuego’s mains mostly revolve around the plancha, so it’s a bit of a shame that the flat-top grill is hidden away instead of serving as a centre piece of the restaurant. But perhaps the idea is not to distract customers from the real moneymaker: the twinkling lights of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline at dusk. Regardless of Malaysia's tropical weather, the temperature at this al fresco eatery es muy perfecto.
See also: Brasserie Fritz Is Back! Famed For Fresh Seafood Platters And Frothy Hot Chocolate
A beautiful thing, nostalgia is often collective—it can connect siblings, ex-classmates or a nation. Themed My Malaysian Stories, Gen’s menu is threaded with Chef Johnson Wong’s memories, which are also yours and mine. Memories of being fed cut fruit by mum, or porridge with condiments on a rainy day, of feeling warmed by fish garnished with ginger or experiencing the cool relief of bird’s nest soup. Memories that will never grow old, even as time’s relentless passage colour them differently. Penang is fortunate to have a gatekeeper of memories in Gen.
The modern Malaysian restaurant remixes its menu every so often, but if Lady Luck is on your side, you’ll experience the mackerel and ulam dish, an endlessly mutable amalgam of crudités and sauces—anchovies, tamarind, fermented jackfruit, desiccated coconut, budu, soya sambal—and a clever way of getting you to eat your greens.
Related: 5 Reasons To Check Into The Prestige Hotel In Georgetown, Penang
Having bagged a fantastic corner lot overlooking The Hub’s water feature, Gooddam is tasteful without trying too hard. We frequent this North Italian restaurant for reasonably-priced wines and Italian fare with a contemporary flair, such as one-bite 'Carbonara' tartlets and juniper-flavoured ham on homemade bread. Desserts are definitely Gooddam’s forte and depending on how full you are, these can skew towards refreshing (Salted Coconut Panna Cotta) or indulgent (Semai Chocolate Ice Cream).
ICYMI: Gooddam Is Your New Go-To For Northern Italian Cuisine With Malaysian Inflections
8/20 *Kayra Authentic Kerala Cuisine
Why reinvent the wheel when it rolls along quite nicely? Such is Kayra’s approach towards Kerala recipes. The restaurant embraces the most unique aspects of coastal Indian cuisine and emphasises these traits in a stylish setting. What you're getting are time-tested flavours, although dishes may shape-shift to take on fun new forms.
What stands out most is the visible effort that goes into plating and presentation. Take, for instance, the crispy dahi puri rice balls served with shot glasses full of tangy rasam, or the crispy dosas shaped as taco shells—all the better for picking up mini mounds of shredded masala chicken.
Wines and cocktails are aplenty for those who enjoy their drink pairings; otherwise, dessert usually comes with a well-timed offer of coffee or masala tea.
After ticking sun and sand off your island to-do list, your next goal should be to sup well, which is where Kayuputi comes in. Picture being suspended above water while savouring the likes of Patagonian toothfish paired with champagne.
Executive chef Mandy Goh runs a tight ship in the kitchen, although guests hoping to experience more Langkawi-sourced produce will be slightly deflated. That said, what's available is skilfully strung together with imported ingredients. Take, for instance, the local buffalo milk skin in the A4 Kagoshima Wagyu course.
Above all, Kayuputi’s strength lies in its immaculate service—it’s not unusual to be addressed by first name here.
10/20 *Kebaya Dining Room
Like something straight out of a movie set, Kebaya Dining Room is part of the Georgetown Heritage Hotels portfolio. History and integrity comingle at this Straits Chinese restaurant which welcomes creative flourishes while honouring the canon of Baba-Nyonya cuisine.
Because Peranakans are a proud people, Chef Zachary Choong is constantly tiptoeing on ice: "It’s a very tricky spot to be in, but I try to strike a balance between flavours and textures while honouring heritage." As far as we can tell, he’s doing more than alright; while the Joo Hoo Char here retains its distinctive cuttlefish flavour, the Acar Awak is enlivened by peanut brittle, the chef’s own innovation.
11/20 *LI Restaurant
Honestly, given the quality of food, LI is one of the best value for money restaurants in town—this applies to both the à la carte dishes and newish 'Li-neage' tasting menu. With regards to the latter, how could you resist a delicious five-course meal for only RM100 per head? Whichever way you cut it, LI is definitely worth the price of admission.
But before LI started experimenting with paneer gnocchi or tandoori pumpkin with smoked yogurt, the restaurant cemented its fame with humble yet inventive eats like bacon dumplings, housemade Spam bowls, and what is possibly the best chicken chop in the country.
On the topic of libations, LI's beverage list is limited but sufficient; with only two types of wine available, one is more likely to turn to craft beers or homemade passionfruit enzyme drinks.
See also: Quality Bread Beckons At Provisions Café By LI Restaurant
The problem with this limited column is that one hasn’t the space to list the countless reasons why Nadodi has worked its way into the hearts and minds of many, but one can at least try.
First of all, no other fine dining restaurant in Malaysia focuses on the captivating and complex flavours of South India and Sri Lanka with such razor-sharp focus. Secondly, the restaurant is setting an example in its zero waste journey; perfectly good scraps are repurposed in mixologist Akshar Chalwadi’s standout cocktails. Last but not least, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a humbler inventor than head chef Sricharan Venkatesh, who weaves spices and high-grade ingredients together to concoct new-fangled versions of common street snacks and staples.
13/20 *Regent Chinese Cuisine
An open secret among Chinese, Korean and Japanese families residing in Mont Kiara, one of our favourite Cantonese restaurants occupies an unassuming corner lot in Plaza Mont Kiara. Allow 'the captain' (whose role is somewhat similar to that of a maître d’) to rattle off a few recommendations, but also heed our advice:
Start with the Cantonese salt and pepper squid (salty, spicy and finger licking good slices of scored squid) and share some homemade desserts at the very end (piping hot lotus paste pancakes for the parents and avocado ice cream for young 'uns). For in-betweeners, there can only be one option: the braised yee mee with truffles and mushrooms is expertly fried with sufficient wok hei and none of its ingredients overpower one another, making every strand a joy to slurp.
Other signs of excellence here include Regent Chinese Cuisine’s self-brewed first draw soy sauce and the swift-footed servers who always ask potential Buddhists if they consume beef.
14/20 *Restaurant Au Jardin
The Garden of Earthly Delights, the poetic title of Hieronynus Bosch’s most celebrated painting, can also be ascribed to this fine dining restaurant in Penang. Produce from land and sea are spun into something loftier at this paradise of good eats. Spearheaded by Chef Su Kim Hock, who was last seen in Taiwan, Restaurant Au Jardin proves that Penang is not just for street food—not anymore, anyway.
One of the best things we’ve eaten this year, the Hay-Aged Duck aced presentation and flavour while also serving as an unforgettable souvenir; dramatically presented in a shroud of smoke, the gold-lacquered bird is displayed whole before being sliced and plated. But the best is yet to come; after requesting the bill, you’ll be gifted an extension of your experience: a takeaway box with duck legs, bread and condiments to enjoy later.
15/20 Sitka Studio
To call 2020 turbulent would be an understatement. While news of Sitka Studio's potential closure sent our hearts catapulting, the restaurant was literally saved by the bell. And now that it's back, we appreciate it more so than ever. Where else would we pair natural wines with aged duck or floating islands? Furthermore, the first floor restaurant is never too loud or lifeless but, as Goldilocks once said, "It's just right."
TATLER TIP: Speak to front of house manager and co-founder Jenifer Kuah if you need help finding a natural wine to your liking.
16/20 *Skillet At 163
Dessert is compulsory at this modern European restaurant helmed by a former pastry chef. Even Skillet At 163’s savoury courses bear traces of Raymond Tham’s first love. Think Sicilian cannoli stuffed with sea cucumber, seaweed, mascarpone and kyuri as opposed to the standard ricotta and chocolate chips. Or spreadable curry powder panna cotta served with bread at the start of meal—it’s all such a wonderfully refreshing way of seeing food.
Meaning ‘forgotten bread’ in French, the pain perdu is, ironically, absolutely unforgettable; it takes Tham 45 minutes to spin stale bread into golden caramelised bars that are perfect for snacking on—can we get a whole bag to go?
17/20 *Sushi Hara
To succeed in KL’s ultra-competitive Japanese fine dining scene, one must really be cut out for the task, and thankfully for Sushi Hara, executive chef Harada Junji has managed to find his niche. Not your run-of-the mill omakase operation, Sushi Hara offers Japanese fare featuring non-traditional ingredients, from silky chawanmushi with foie gras to eggplant jelly reminiscent of liquid smoke.
Little details need to be worked out, such as the sequencing of the courses (to avoid long bouts of waiting) and the front of house team’s descriptions of the dishes (they struggled to share the chef’s enthusiasm), but this chic and comfortable Japanese restaurant has its strengths. A 10-course expedition of flavour, the Hara Omakase presents premium ingredients in their best light, and the main highlight—seven pieces of sushi—is unique in that each piece is brushed with different amounts of soy sauce or wasabi.
18/20 *Sushi Kazu
With world-class restaurants like Jiro and Ishikawa setting up in humble spaces, a swanky interior is hardly a prerequisite for Japanese fine dining. Sushi Kazu’s minimalistic décor proves that there is little need for frills when the food is alluring enough. We chose to honour the carefree spirit of omakase by giving Chef Norikazu Shibata free rein within a fixed budget and were delighted by the gradual reveal.
Starting with amuse bouches and velvety chawanmushi, the meal segued into a delicious sashimi platter, but it wasn’t until the kinki (rockfish) that things got interesting—at a glance, it resembled grilled chicken with a scarlet shield. From oysters harvested from the waters of Hiroshima to aubergine grown in Kyoto, Sushi Kazu's ingredients are high-quality and served in a well-choreographed sequence; just as we craved something to temper the richness of the ankimo (monkfish liver), in came a clam soup with clean maritime flavours.
19/20 *Table & Apron
If every neighbourhood had its own version of Table & Apron, the world would be a happier place. Spreading good vibes and serving up comfort food, the casual eatery with an attached bakery has built its reputation on the following fare: fried chicken coated in a light batter, herbaceous ulam rice with brackish crabmeat, and fall-off-the-bone sticky pork ribs.
While the menu doesn’t indicate the presence of allergens, the wait staff always asks about dietary restrictions while guiding us with our orders. The clairvoyant bunch even know what we want better than we know ourselves.
Related: They Left Their Homes To Help Build Our F&B Industry
20/20 The Brasserie
Ever since The St Regis KL opened its doors, its dining halls have become a second home to the culturally literate. Stellar examples of The Brasserie’s tip-top service include them sending us a photo of our specially requested table to be approved and setting out footstools for each lady’s handbag. Soak in the resplendent cream and black interior of the high-ceilinged restaurant while tucking into quintessential French fare like terrine and bouillabaisse. The Brasserie is also one of few restaurants in KL to frequently host world-renowned chefs from overseas.
ICYMI: The Feast Of Versailles At The Brasserie, The St Regis KL