Where to get the best of Kuala Lumpur away from the tourist trail

From home-grown farms to private dining experiences and local hang-outs, these are the best places to visit to see the more offbeat side of the Malaysian capital.

Kuala Lumpur Skyline
  • Delle Chan
  • August 2019

This city may be famed for sights such as the Petronas Towers and Batu Caves but get off the tourist trail — wide-open spaces, an evolving culinary scene and cultural gems are waiting to be discovered.

For food

There’s so much more to KL’s food scene than its world-famous hawker fare. Get a taste of the myriad flavours the city has to offer.

The modern Malaysian restaurant

OpenHouse, Kuala Lumpur

Long-lost ancestral recipes — some of which date back over two centuries – are given a new lease of life at fine-dining restaurant OpenHouse.

Beef red curry from OpenHouse
Ingredients are locally sourced from Malaysian rainforests where possible.

These include the Pais Barramundi, which is slathered with a turmeric-based rempah (spice paste) and wrapped in daun lerek (a hard leaf indigenous to Malaysian rainforests); and the Venison Rendang Minang, which is slow-cooked in a mix of local herbs and spices.

Address: G48 Suria KLCC Lakeside 50088

The farm

A Little Farm on the Hill, Kuala Lumpur
A Little Farm on the Hill.

A 40-minute drive from KL, A Little Farm on the Hill is a six-acre plot in the Janda Baik forest in Pahang. Here, husband-and-wife team Pete Teo and Lisa Ngan grow an array of organic herbs, fruits and vegetables; they also smoke meats, make jams and tend to their own fishes.

Sample the fruits of their labour at the Dining Room, where seasonal dishes such as leafy salads and baked trout are literally served farm-to-table.

Address: 161 Tanarimba Janda Baik, Persiaran Enderong, Bukit Tinggi, 28750 Bentong, Pahang
Tel: +6092330194
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The supper club

Dapur Mekwa Grub Club
Dapur Mekwa Grub Club.

Dapur Mekwa Grub Club is a supper club held in a private home in Taman Melati. Here, you’ll be seated alongside fellow guests at a communal table, while your host regales you with intriguing stories about the food being served.

Dapur Mekwa Grub Club
The four-course meal is built around traditional Kelantanese recipes.

Tuck into dishes such as Ayam Percik Bonda (roasted chicken with coconut and spices) and decadent treats like Lompat Tikam With Gula Melaka (pandan rice flour cake drizzled with palm sugar).

Tel: +60123272985
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The market

Do like the locals do and shop at Imbi Market. At this popular indoor wet market set within the ICC Pudu Building, you’ll find row upon row of stalls selling fresh produce, from fish and poultry to vegetables and condiments.

Imbi Market, Kuala Lumpur
Imbi Market.

There’s also a food court on the ground floor. Locals flock to Ah Weng Koh Hainan Tea & Coffee for their morning fix of kopi and kaya toast. For a hearty lunch, try the char kway teow and wanton mee stalls.

Address: ICC Pudu, Jalan Kijang, Pudu

The hard-to-get-into restaurant

Soon Heng Social Club, Kuala Lumpur
Heng Social Club.

Soon Heng Social Club is open only on Friday and Saturday nights. No walk-ins are allowed — the only way to snare a seat is through a DM to their Instagram page. And if that isn’t enough to pique your interest, the location of the restaurant is revealed only when your reservation is confirmed. Oh, and there’s a three-month waiting list.

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For art and culture

From ancient traditions to contemporary art, indigenous villages to modern theatres, KL is a veritable cultural hub.

The cultural village

An hour’s drive from central KL lies Mah Meri Cultural Village, which is home to one of 18 indigenous tribes in the country. The Mah Meri are sometimes called the “Masked Men of Malaysia”, thanks to the colourful disguises they don during their elaborate dance rituals.

Mah Meri Cultural Village
Mah Meri Cultural Village.

They’re also renowned for their woodcarving skills, and their works can be admired at the village museum. Call in advance to book an English-speaking tour guide, or to arrange to see demonstrations of traditional rituals.

Address: Sime Darby Plantations, Jalan Pulau Carey 42960 Pulau Carey, Kuala Langat
Tel: +60102522800

The gallery

Set in the former family home of architect and avid art collector Mohamad Pital Maarof, independent gallery Rumah Lukis foregrounds the process of making art — not so much the end product.

Rumah Lukis, Kuala Lumpur
Rumah Lukis.

Here, you’ll find rudimentary sketches and playful doodles displayed alongside completed masterpieces, highlighting the growth of the artist in question. Local creatives who have exhibited here include renowned painter Jalaini Abu Hassan and urban sketch artist Paul Nickson Atia.

Address: 11 Jalan AU5D/4, Lembah Keramat, Selangor

The arts hub

Tadang Record Store, Kuala Lumpur
Tadang Record Store.

Once home to a Chinese clan association and frozen foods specialist, The Zhongshan Building is now a creative hub with a markedly different set of tenants. Customise colourful risograph posters and name cards at A Good Reason; browse and buy original vinyl at Tandang Record Store; soak up live music at Fono; and discover the history of rock ‘n’ roll in Southeast Asia at The Ricecooker Archives, to name a few.

Address: 80-84 Jalan Rotan, Off Jalan Kampung Attap, 50460
Tel: +60166602585

The theatre

Dapur Mekwa Grub Club
Istana Budaya.

Catch a performance at the Istana Budaya, which has staged some of the most famous productions in the world including Swan Lake and The Phantom of the Opera. The building itself is a sight to behold, with a series of soaring pitched roofs inspired by Malay architecture. Inside, its 1,412-seater auditorium is as modern as they come, with high-tech stage lighting and a top-notch sound system.

Address: Jalan Tun Razak 50694
Tel: +60340265555