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Oct 24, 2012 08:00 AM

Kuala Lumpur - Local Chinese Favorites at the Esquire Kitchen (大人餐厅)

I first experienced Esquire Kitchen, then known for introducing "Shanghainese" cuisine, heavily localised to suit local Chinese-Malaysian tastes, back in the late-70s - it was somewhere in Bukit Bintang. The last time I stepped into an Esquire Kitchen outlet was the one in Sungei Wang Plaza, probably around 1988-89 thereabouts during one of my rare visits to KL. The food tasted quite "different" from the Cantonese-influenced Chinese cuisine in KL then.

Well, since then, I'd actually made several business trips to Shanghai, especially in the past decade or so as China opens up to the world with a speed unimaginable previously. These visits also gave me the opportunity to experience the "real" Shanghainese cuisine, so to speak.

So, it was interesting for me to step back into Esquire Kitchen - this outlet is in Mid Valley Megamall - this evening, and savor its KL-style pseudo-"Shanghainese" cuisine once again. What I tried today:

- pork & lotus root soup, which was simple yet delicious. Dried cuttlefish and red dates were also added to give the consomme added flavors. Certainly *nothing* Shanghainese about this dish! :-D

- Dongpo pork (東坡肉), which really originated in Hangzhou, not far from Shanghai. I'd had some great dongpo pork in Hangzhou as well as Shanghai. The one at Esquite Kitchen curiously had a strong ginger scent in it which I found a bit disagreeable. Otherwise, the pork belly was perfectly cooked. It was served with steamed buns wich were soft, fluffy & slightly sweet.

- House special tofu, which was a large rectangular block of very soft Hakka-style tofu which had been lightly fried, giving it a thin crust (like Japanese "agedashi tofu") whilst preserving to soft delicate interior. The tofu was covered with crisp-fried minced dried shrimps, pork lardons & dried salted fish, and finely-chopped scallions, all bathed in a thin soy-based dressing. It was quite good.

Stepping back into Esquire Kitchen, and experiencing its somewhat multi-regional Chinese cuisine, injected with a lot of local Chinese-Malaysian flavors was very interesting & pleasurable indeed. At the table next to mine were two middle-aged Hainanese couples - speaking in their easily-distinguishable Hainanese dialect with its sudden inflexions, the men's voices hitting falsetto notes at times, amidst a sea of Cantonese diners with their confident, rapid-fire, staccato voices, was indeed an interesting experience for me. I also noticed that the Hainanese foursome were actually dining on Hainanese chicken rice - I suddenly remembered that the Esquire Kitchen chain had acquired Nam Heong ( and the latter's dishes were incorporated into Esquire Kitchen's menu. For a moment there, I actually felt a tinge of regret at not ordering the Hainanese dishes!

But my impression of Esquire Kitchen, pre- and post- visits to China in the intervening years/decades, had changed. I know now for certain that its cuisine was not genuine Shanghainese - to get that, one can go to the Shanghai Restaurant at JW Marriott ( where Shanghainese visitors and expats to KL would dine at. But Esquire Kitchen's food is pretty special in its own way - it's truly KL food as I remembered through the past decades which I'd visited this city, it is good in its own right, and is certainly one worth preserving.

Address details
Esquire Kitchen
G 025, Mid Valley Megamall
Old Klang Road
58000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +603-2284 7814

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  1. Well, you'll simply have to go back and try their Hainanese dishes - including the chicken rice. :-)

    Interesting dishes. I haven't had lotus root & pork/beef soup in a long while. That fried tofu is almost unrecognizable. :-)

    The "background" you write about is nice to read about. It's true in my mind that a great deal of the "Chinese" food one gets in Malaysia is "localized" and adapted. Probably one could say the same thing about a fair bit of "Chinese" food in Singapore or Thailand or Indonesia etc. It's a reason why I sometimes have issues with Westerners/USAmericans talking about "Malaysian" food as stuff which seem to be basically MALAY food while relegating stuff like what you talk about to CHINESE food in CHINESE restaurants and talking about such food as being served in CANTONESE, etc etc restaurants and not considering it as Malaysian or at least Malaysian-Chinese food, until when one calls them on it.

    BTW can one still get what I knew as "kum pou tow foo"? Basically finely mushed-up tofu which is formed into balls and deep fried so you have a "ball" of tofu with a crisp exterior and a meltingly soft interior. Not the same as agedashidofu etc. This was often used in a stir-fry type dish with veggies or meat/minced meat with a thickened sauce.

    7 Replies
    1. re: huiray

      I'd not seen "kum pou tow foo" in KL yet - I'll need to ask my local collagues. In Singapore, it is actually quite common, though we called it "kum chin tofu", but the thickened sauce usually contained seafood Iike crab or minced shrimp.

      1. re: klyeoh

        Hmm, on reflection, "kum chin tow foo" may have been the right name for it in KL too and my memory got it only half-right. The place where my family would get this often was a restaurant "down the slope" off Davidson Rd (Jln Hang Jebat), a semi-open tin-roofed place.

        1. re: huiray

          I really need to climb that sloping road & see if there are any interesting eateries still there. Chinese street- or casual dining has changed quite a bit since you were here, I guess: Petaling Street/Chinatown and KL's old quarter are still interesting, but seemed passe to the younger generation of Chinese-Malaysians. Some parts of that old quarter has also been taken over by newer migrants (e.g. Burmese, Nepali, Bangladeshi) as detailed in other threads.
          Most Chinese-Malaysians have moved out to the suburbs, and we now have concentrations of Chinese casual eateries in places like Connaught Garden & other spots in Cheras, Overseas Union Garden/Happy Gardens/Taman Desa, Mont Kiara/Desa Hartamas, Puchong Jaya, etc. There are much, much more choices these days - but they are also pretty spread out.

          1. re: klyeoh

            Indeed you have mentioned the scattering of the Chinese population from "Chinatown" in various posts. True of many similar enclaves in cities all over as newer immigrants supplant the older ones. "Little Italy" in NYC exists in name only in a practical sense even if the Feast of San Gennaro still goes on there every year although the place is basically an extension of Chinatown and has been so for years.

            BTW it looks like you *did* have "kum chin tofu" in KL... :-)

            1. re: huiray

              Hey, you're right - somehow, this place, and the fact that I had the dish there, slipped my mind.

          2. re: huiray

            huiray - I did walk thru Jln Hang Jebat this evening, but no tin-roofed eatery in sight. There were only 2 eateries there: Pik Wah Restaurant (碧华楼酒家) at the MABA (Malaysian Amateur Basketball Association) House; and Chef Soon Koh Restaurant (阿顺哥鱼翅) at the Chin Woo Stadium.

            A pic of Jln Hang Jebat just as it meets Jalan Sultan which I snapped this evening, before I ascended the slope - does it look the same as you remembered it, huiray? :-)

            1. re: klyeoh

              It looks "prettified" in the sense that I remember that part as much grungier than as is shown in your photo. :-)

              I'm impressed you took that walk! I have to say I didn't really think that tin-roofed restaurant would still be there after all these years. It was in the 1960s-1970s... I remember it as on the north side of Davidson Rd, down (literally) a cul-de-sac leading off Davidson Rd, on the left side of that cul-de-sac. I just looked at Google maps and I have the notion it would have been in the area of that MABA House you mention, unless my memory is playing tricks again. I don't remember the name, of course.

              Thanks for looking. I would also like to think that you are curious about the local "culinary history", of course. :-)

      2. Back at Esquire Kitchen yesterday evening with a couple of Singaporean friends. What we had:
        - Braised glass noodles with minced pork, flavored with fermented soybeans and chillis. It was tangy and very spicy.
        - Yangzhou fried rice (plus crisped salt fish) - very well done here, with a distinctive "wok-hei" fragrance.
        - "Mok Siu Yok", which seemed to be a forerunner of Chinese-American "mushu pork": stir-fried vermicelli, scallions, beansprouts, eggs, carrots, black fungus and minced pork, to be wrapped in spring roll skin.
        - the House Special tofu again - which was absolutely delicious.