Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > China & Southeast Asia >
Mar 17, 2009 06:36 PM

Kuala Lumpur: Retro dining at Sek Yuen

Sek Yuen, the 63-year-old Cantonese eatery in KL was unlike anything we have in Singapore - an incredibly precious dining gem which seemed stuck in a timewarp. The retro-frontage on Jalan Pudu opened up to a bright, spacious high-ceilinged dining hall which harked from a different era.

Sek Yuen's food was INCREDIBLE!!! Some of the more memorable dishes I had were:
- Pork-rib soup with red dates, figs & "wai san" (a popular Chinese root vegetable). The soup was just perfect;
- Deep-fried fish head, braised in the house-special sauce ("sar lou yee tow"), which was simply the BEST seafood dish I've had in a long while;
- Stir-fried eggplants, dried beancurd, lilybuds, Chinese white cabbage, blakc wood-ear fungus in fermented beancurd sauce ("ka heong choy")

Loved the atmospheric cavernous kitchen at the back (we had a peek before we left the restaurant), where elderly chefs conjure up their amazing culinary creations on giant woks atop antiquated wood-fired braziers.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. klyeoh, have you tried Yook Woo Hin in Petaling Street/"Chee Cheong Kai" which opened in 1926. Great KL fried Hokkien mee and Cantonese dishes. But you're right - Sek Yuen definitely has a more old-world atmosphere (ever since Yook Woo Hin's new proprietress updated its decor recently).

    Next time, should try Sek Yuen's most famous house specials:-
    (1) PAT POH NGAP - 8-treasure braised, stuffed duck. Absolutely SHIOK!!!
    (2) FAT CHOI CHEE SOU - whole braised pig trotter. Taste is out of this world!

    3 Replies
    1. re: penang_rojak

      Yes, I've tried Yook Woo Hin's dim sum at breakfast a few years ago - really, REALLY old world! Golf ball-sized har gow & siu mai were amazing. I know they are also famous for their fried hor fun and "sin chow mai fun" (Singapore fried bee hoon) at lunch-time - I think I had that before, but don't remember too much except that they were a tad oily for me.

      Address link for Sek Yuen:

      Sek Yuen
      313 Jalan Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur 55100, MY

      1. re: klyeoh

        Address link for Yook Woo Hin:

        Yook Woo Hin
        100 Jalan Petaling, Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur 50000, MY

        1. re: klyeoh

          Quick update - had lunch yesterday but found Yook Woo Hin's standards have dropped a lot! The oldest daughter-in-law of the late proprietor who used to run the restaurant seems to have gone. Very disappointed.

    2. Just a quick update on Sek Yuen - we were up in KL again last weekend and just HAD to pay Sek Yuen another visit. This time, we ordered one of their house specialties: "pat poh chi sou" (8-Treasure Braised Pig's Trotter). It's basically a deboned & braised pig's trotter stuffed with chestnuts, dried oysters, minced pork, etc. You'll need to order this dish a day ahead, except on weekends when they prepare extra a la carte portions for walk-in customers. The pig trotter's skin was incredibly soft & tasty, and could have easily given the legendary French dish Pied de Cochon aux Morilles a la Pierre Koffmann a run for its money.

      Another dish we ordered was the sharksfin & crabmeat omelette, served with lettuce leaves on the side. This was quite well-done but didn't quite bowl us over.

      Still, we're very, very impressed by Sek Yuen's dishes and are already planning our next flight up to KL. They have two other house specialties which we had never tried:

      - "pei pa ngap" (a traditional Cantonese roast duck dish; and
      - "pat po ngap" (braised 8-treasure duck: stuffed with lotus seeds, mushrooms, etc.)

      2 Replies
      1. re: klyeoh

        I was back with my family at Sek Yuen today. The braised duck stuffed with lotus seeds, mushrooms, gingko nuts, was delicious as usual.
        We also had kah heong choi which consisted of eggplants, tung hoon, tau joo (fermented bean curd), pak choi, tau pok or tofu puffs, etc.
        The fried fish head with black beans and other mysterious stuff was also perfect, although full of bones.
        Deep-fried prawns with bean sauce was also very well done.
        Another great dish was pork-rib soup with figs and wai san root.
        Crabmeat balls were too salty & quite boring, I won't recommend that.
        Love Sek Yuen, how I wish Penang has a restaurant like that!

        1. re: klyeoh

          hahaha .. glad to see Sek Yuen garnering some international attention .. it's been a mainstay in the KL eating scene since it was opened, deservingly so as they have maintained their consistency over so many years. A worrying thought; you do not see any young cooks in the kitchen ... hopefully somebody inherits the skills for these old school dishes.

          imo , if u have to choose one, take their "Pat Poh Ngap" .. not many places in KL do it as well as they do and certainly not for the price that they charge. The "Pei Pa Ngap" is at times slightly dry and perhaps not aromatic enough. The Chicken Skin with Fish Paste is another good dish to order especially if you have a big group at dinner.

          Also, If you're feeling adventurous , call ahead and ask if they could get any "Lei Yue Kongs" (male Lei Fish). I personally have not tried this but one of my elders mentioned that its a rare dish that the guys at Sek Yuen can do really well.

        2. I visited Sek Yuen tonight after reading this thread.

          Like many Chinese restaurants here, Sek Yuen is not really set up to accommodate solo diners. And to make matters worse, there was no menu (at least the server said there was none when I asked. Perhaps he meant no English menu?). He just asked me what I wanted to eat, as if I had the slightest idea what the choices were.

          Fortunately, I remembered fat choi chee sou from this thread (thanks, penan_rojak). A first, the server started trying to dissuade me from ordering it because a regular order is just too much for one diner, but after a brief conference with the captain, they suggested serving me a smaller portion (and at a reduced price of just 18 ringgits).

          The meal was delicious. Thanks to both klyeoh and penang_rojak for the recommendation.

          5 Replies
          1. re: racer x

            I'm glad you stuck it out.

            There is a menu, a single menu; it is in Chinese characters and was printed back when KL phone numbers had 7 digits.

            When the owner asked you what you wanted to eat he meant not particular dishes but general categories -- pork, chicken, fish, veggie ... noodles or rice? If you name a category he will suggest dishes, vaguely (eg. 'fried pork' means fabulous chunks of marbled meat seasoned with five-spice and deep-fried, 'shark's fin' means slivered squid fried with egg, crab meat, and scallions, eaten wrapped in lettuce with a drizzle of dark soy -- fabulous).

            He always says 'enough' when HE thinks you've ordered enough (he's usually right) -- thus the resistance to your fat choi chee sou order.

            We've been frequenting Sek Yuen for 3+ years. I can't put into words how much I love the place. (We're foreigners.) No, they're not 'set up' for solo diners, or for anyone who doesn't speak Cantonese, for that matter, definately not for Westerners as we found on our first visit .... but, as we also found, if you persist they will try to accomodate you and if you demonstrate that you're enjoying the food you will earn their good will in spades.

            There's a lot of love in that kitchen, even if it's not all warm and fuzzy in the dining room.

            1. re: foodfirst

              Absolutely agree - Sek Yuen's antiquated kitchen, with its giant firewood stoves, could churn out better food than many 5-star establishments in KL, or anywhere in the world, for that matter.

              I snapped this pic on my way out of the restaurant after another memorable meal during a visit to KL two months ago.

              1. re: klyeoh

                If I remember right, there are two sections to the restaurant - a nicer room on the left (maybe carpet and tablecloths?) and a more cafeteria-style one on the right (where I ate). Is there a difference between the two in terms of the food served or the prices?

                1. re: racer x

                  The food & prices are exactly the same. The "nicer" section is air-conditioned - a very welcome respite when KL gets even hotter & muggier than usual. The bigger, brighter but non-airconditioned area is the original restaurant: it evokes an aura of a bygone era & is much favoured by the older patrons.

                  1. re: klyeoh

                    Sitting in the older section gives you a bird's-eye view of the kitchen, the comings and goings, interaction of the staff etc. There's always more patrons in there so you get to observe all the dishes as they're brought out -- if we see something we don't recognize we can ask the staff about it and note it down for the next visit. We never sit in the air-con room.

                    As a 40+-year Sek Yuen regular said to me last Sunday (when we ate an exceptional dish of chicken steamed with lily buds and cloud ear mushrooms):

                    "The air-con is nice, but I want to be where the action is."

          2. Back in Sek Yuen for lunch today after a 2 years-plus hiatus (has it been *that* long?!), and glad to see that business was still bustling as usual.

            Our Sunday lunch consisted of:
            - Pork-rib & fgs soup, which was simple but delicious;
            - Sharksfin omelette with lettuce - another old-fashioned Cantonese dish, very well-executed here: perfectly cooked eggs, slightly moist, generous helpings of sharksfin, shredded carrots and jicama added some crunch. Super-fresh lettuce leaves were perfect edible vessels/wraps to enjoy the omelette;
            - "Ka Heong Choy" vegetables - tasted exactly the same as my 18 Mar 2009 visit;
            - "Sar Lou Yee Tow" fish head - ditto tasted like during my 18 Mar 2009 visit;
            - "Gwoo Lo Yook" sweet-sour pork - the version at Sek Yuen was not as vinegarish as at other places in KL, but more subtly flavored here - seemed only tomatoes were the main flavoring agent.

            An interesting development - they put up a sign on the wall stating that they are now open for business on Mondays - so Sek Yuen now operates daily.

            So good to be back :-)

            4 Replies
            1. re: klyeoh

              Very nice to read about your latest visit here. I seem to have forgotten about reading this thread previously!

              I dimly remember their "pat poh ngap" and "pei pa ngap" from years ago. Also their Yee Sang. At the time there were other places in KL that were "more convenient" or even more "retro", including Yook Woo Hin mentioned further up in this thread and which served old-fashioned dishes more to our taste. (and which I have talked about elsewhere) In fact, Sek Yuen seemed a little glitzy by comparison at one time, with its neon signage. :-)

              1. re: huiray

                Oh yes, their Yee Sang was one of the best in KL - in fact, I was told by my KL friends that the local "The Star" paper had a feature on Sek Yuen's Yee Sang, with the owner, pictured holding a platter as such during the "Chap Goh Meh" (15th Day of Lunar New Year) edition of the newspaper last Monday. I missed that as I was in Bangkok then. I missed Sek Yuen 's Yee Sang as well because I was away in Singapore during the Chinese New Year period. What a pity!

              2. re: klyeoh

                More gorgeous pics, klyeoh! Making my mouth water!

                1. re: racer x

                  Don't you just love the irrepressible Sek Yuen? Old favorite dishes served in a place caught in a time warp. The restaurant is to KL what Tadich Grill is to San Francisco, or the old Delmonico was to New York.