Kuala Lumpur - That 70s Icon: Sakura at Jalan Imbi
KL-lites regard the 34-year-old Sakura on Jalan Imbi, just behind KL's Bukit Bintang commercial district, as the quintessential go-to place for Nasi Lemak (that divine coconut-milk scented rice which is Malaysia's de facto national dish) as well as cafe food (think faux Western dishes like sizzling steaks). Despite its Japanese name, Sakura doesn't serve any Japanese food at all, but rather a plethora of Malaysian street-style dishes which really, and I do mean really, set the bar for other casual local bistros & cafes in KL. Spin-offs & copycats of Sakura's concept include the popular Madam Kwan chain (Pavilion, Mid-Valley, etc), Grandmama's Kitchen, and Singapore's Grandma's Kitchen (Paragon, United Square) which also serve the Nasi Lemak, Curry Laksa, Fish-head Curry, and the trademark Nasi Bojari. But more often than not, these places (with perhaps the exception of Madam Kwan at Suria KLCC) fall short of Sakura's standards.
What I tried today:
- An interesting aperitif: the tangy ruby-colored Roselle juice, served very cold & was very refreshing;
- Nasi Bojari: Turmeric-scented yellow rice, served with a blandish beef rendang; a not-sour-not-spicy-enough prawns assam pedas; half a hard-boiled egg (don't ask me why one don't get a whole egg); and - definitely the saving grace - the best piece of fried chicken which one can find in KL! The ubiquitous "crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside" phrase never rang truer than in the case here. The fried chicken thigh and drumstick had been simply marinated in turmeric and salt - but I'm hazarding a guess that fresh turmeric, as opposed to the tasteless powdered form, was used in this case, giving more depth of flavor to the fried chicken. It was the epitomy of sheer simplicity;
- Chendol for dessert. I loved the green squiggly noodles and the finely-shaved ice - prepared using a traditional rotating ice-shaver, as opposed to ice-blender/grinder in Singapore which yielded coarser, unpleasant ice. But, like foodwriter Eating Asia mentioned, the secret to good chendol is in the Gula Melaka (brown palm sugar used) and, unfortunately in this case, Sakura failed miserably. Its brown sugar syrup was caramelised sugar which lacked the coconutty, rich, toasty flavor of good quality Gula Melaka. And the coconut milk used also did not taste fresh nor richly thick enough, but rather too thinned out. Avoid the chendol here. The best versions of chendol in Malaysia are still, IMHO, the Teochew chendol in Penang Road, and the one at Nyonya Makko in Taman Melaka Raya, Malacca.
- There's no better way to finish off a Malaysian meal than a glass of hot "Teh Tarik" beverage. To Malaysians, that's a glass of hot, (ultra) sweet milky tea which is "pulled" (Malay: "tarik") or rather poured repeatedly from one humungous tin mug into another by the Teh Tarik expert in the kitchen, resulting in a frothy cappucinno-like head on the milky concoction when poured into a serving glass. To a non-Malaysian, I'd advise you to tell the wait-staff that you want a version with less sugar, unless you want to subject yourself to instant insulin shock therapy.
Sakura's decor reminded me of the retro-looking Litoral in Macau or the old Landau's in Hong Kong's Sun Hung Kai Centre which both harked back to the 70s. Oh well, these cafes are all contemporaries anyway.
I'll be back to try Sakura's Nasi Lemak soon - it's a luxe version and, if the one served at its rival, Madam Kwan Restaurant, is any indication, it ought to be good!
Sakura Café and Cuisine
163-169, Jalan Imbi
55100 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2148 4315
Unless one is in the know, oftentimes, the older establishments in KL get overlooked in favor of newer, trendier eating spots.
KL-lites these days would rave over swanky, new, high-rent establishments like Marini's on 57, il Lido or Bijan, whilst wonky old faithfuls like Sakura, Coliseum and Sek Yuen fall by wayside.
"to tell the wait-staff that you want a version with less sugar, unless you want to subject yourself to instant insulin shock therapy" - My dear, I'm rolling on the floor laughing :)
Looks like you're having a good time "discovering" KL but we do miss you in Singapore. Anyway, my husband and I look forward to catching up with you again this Sat - hawker fare promotion at the club.
See ya Sat.
BTW, tried Madam Kwan's - the Nasi Lemak was pretty good (RM15.90++), it was tastier but also certainly way more expensive than the RM1.50 packet I buy for breakfast from my office cafeteria. You can certainly taste the coconut creme used to cook the rice, but it lacked the nice scent of really hot, steaming nasi lemak.
The ikan bilis (anchovies) cooked in chilli and assam, with generous rings of Bombay onions, was the best part of the meal.
The chicken curry was nice but can taste a bit too rich - you get 2 pieces of very delectable, long-simmered chicken in an aromatic curry which was also not too spicy.
The Penang-style Nyonya achar served on the side in a tiny little saucer was great - tangy and peanutty, tinged yellow with turmeric. Good for cutting into the richness of both the rice & curry.
There was also a clump of chicken(?) floss, but I felt it was pretty unnecessary, and didn't add anything to the dish.
Half a hard-boiled egg & a couple of thin slices of cucumber complete the place. Now I have to go back to Sakura to try their version and compare ;-)
Level 4, Suria KLCC
50450 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2284 2297
Well it does look very much like the nasi lemak at Grandma's Kitchen here in Singapore's Orchard Parade Hotel. The story here goes that the chef used to be the chief cook at Madam Kwan's in KL before he came over to Singapore. I like their sambal petai. The prices are too high for such food though.