Kuala Lumpur - Dinner at the historic Coliseum Cafe
No visit to KL is ever complete without a visit to the city's iconic, legendary 91-year-old Coliseum Cafe, a Hainanese-owned restaurant which served Old-World Hainanese-Western dishes (sizzling steaks, Hainanese chicken chops, fish-n-chips) and local Chinese dishes like Egg Foo Yong & Inche Kabin (a Penang-Nyonya fried chicken dish), among others.
There's a charming bar in there which looked like it came straight out of a Somerset Maugham novel. It's been serving out gin, whisky, and "stengah" - the half-whisky-half-soda water drink popular with the old planters in British-Malaya - since 1921.
Dinner this evening:
- Ox-tail soup: murky broth which tasted like a cross between Hainanese herbal soup (the sort which used mutton) and Anglo-Indian mulligatawny. Its taste was too strong for me - a "love-it-or-hate-it" kind of soup. I, unfortunately, fell into the latter category.
- Baked crab in shell. It was dressed crab, mixed with perhaps mayonnaise (??) or some kind of white sauce, covered with seasoned breadcrumbs and baked till golden-crisp on top. A tad oily, but otherwise not too disagreeable.
- Chicken a la King, served here with a rustic, flavorsome Hainanese-style fried rice.
- Hainanese chicken chop with crinkle-cut French fries. The sauce here is tomatoey - different from the kind of sauce used by Hainanese chefs in SIngapore where it's more of a light, brownish soysauce-flavored gravy with a faint cinnamon-star anise-clove scent.
For dessert, we wanted to try all of Coliseum's old-fashioned puddings: jelly with ice-cream, creme caramel, fried bananas a la mode, and pancake with sugar & lemon. They really tasted home-made - really, REALLY reminded me of the desserts which I grew up with :-)
Come here for a drink and to soak in some of Old Malaya's history. Food-wise? GO EAT ELSEWHERE!
Coliseum Cafe & Bar
98 Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman
50100 Kuala Lumpur
I don't know how Coliseum was previously, but I'm guessing that they must have been *much* better than they are now - since the Hainanese were fantastic cooks, and they also make marvellous wait-staff - perfectly turned out & very professional.
Not sure who does the cooking these days, but the waiters are all Myanmarese or Nepalis. Current generation Hainanese in Malaysia's probably moved away from the food/catering industry, just like in Singapore.
Decades ago the staff were definitely Chinese/Hainanese, most on the elderly side with some young 'uns ("apprentice waiters"). Perfectly turned out, as you say, in crisp white uniforms; padding around silently and almost stealthily, a crisply folded white linen napkin over their white-sleeved arm.
The T-bone and Porterhouse steaks were magnificent, albeit usually ordered well-done or medium-done, of course. Rare/bloody steaks were rarely ordered (IIRC) and were considered inedible by many Chinese folks anyway, with only the gwailo ordering such primitive meats. :-) They also served a mean mulligatawny soup, and their crab egg foo young was quite something. Etc etc. That tomato-ey sauce on their chops is what I remember being a "feature" of such dishes there, quite tasty and tangy IIRC. Doubtlessly made with ketchup. :-) Of course, nostalgic reminiscences are subject to being viewed through rose-tinted glasses. :-D
Sorry to hear of their declining standards and their current Myanmarese/Nepali staff (again!!!).
It sounded almost as if you are describing an entirely *different* restaurant, huiray - how sad that Coliseum had allowed its standards to deteriorate so much.
In Singapore, we have a similar place: Shashlik, at Far East Shopping Centre. It also serves Hainanese-style Western food, much like Coliseum. Not as old as Coliseum, but ancient by Singapore's restaurant standards :-D
Happy to note that its standards had been quite well-maintained till today:
To me the one thing that defined this restaurant was their steaks served on hot plates. The waiter will serve the steak on very hot plate and at the table will pour the gravy that will result in a big sizzle.Everyone at the table will protect themselves with the lifting of the table cloth.Even as recent as about 10 years ago they still served a decent steak with this ritual. have also enjoyed their Hainanese fried yellow noodles which was absolutely delicious
I remembered doing that, too, when we had dinner at Coliseum back in the 1980s. Everyone was doing it, shielding themselves from the splatter of the sizzling steak sauce by lifting up the table cloth, and my wife & I were told by our friends to follow suit although I thought we all look so absurd doing that at the time. Ha-ha-ha!
But on a serious note, I hope Coliseum don't go the way of Yook Woo Hin as mentioned in the other thread. That will be too sad for KL!
In Penang, I mourned for the loss of Wing Look, the venerable old Hainanese cafe on Penang Road where even our first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, loved to come and have their steaks. I still remembered Wing Look's prawn cocktail, sandwiches and jelly dessert. Then, one day, it was gone! Turned into a pawnshop. Aiyah!!
Lunch at the Coliseum today - couldn't resist going back there to check it out after reading news about its sale by the original family who owned it, and the opening of a new branch in Jaya 33 mall in Petaling Jaya, KL's satellite town.
The original outlet was pretty much the same: stained, faded tablecloth, tableware which looked little change for the past 20-30 years. Broken hat rack unfixed. Looks like the new owners are intent to make sure the "old" ambience remained untouched.
I ordered the baked crab, served with a huge dollop of mayonnaise on the side. I added chilli sauce (Lingam's) - a much better condiment than the mayo.
I ordered a T-bone steak, served sizzling. Prepared tableside, it was fabulous! Served bubbling with a tasty brown gravy, with sides of cauliflower, broccoli, Cajun-spiced potato wedges (overly salty). A little bowl of fresh salad with Thousand Island dressing (much preferred by Malayan babyboomers as a salad dressing).
Dessert - a dry-ish, overbaked bread-and-butter pudding was forgettable, butthe think Hainanese coffee was good.
I'm not usually a steak person, but still thoroughly enjoyed my steak lunch here.