By David Ngo
Dec 24, 2021
Ed. Note: Thanks to you-know-what, the last time we published Best New Openings of the Year lists – for anywhere in Asia – was 2019. So, throughout this series, you’re likely to encounter hotels, restaurants and bars that launched in 2020, included both to make up for missing them last year and as a hat-tip for persisting through the pandemic. Wishing all you wanderlusters happy holidays and best of luck getting back on the road and in the air to visit these places soon. – Jeninne
BEST NEW RESTAURANT AND BAR OPENINGS IN MALAYSIA
Courtesy of Curiosity (3)
This rustic eatery serves contemporary cuisine spliced with local flavors. Think striped grouper, aged duck and spiny lobster mains along with melt-in-your mouth risotto. Curiosity’s location in a pre-war Georgetown shophouse, an UNESCO Historic Site, has additional servings of old world kitschiness to go with deserts like cookie à la levain.
Restaurant Au Jardin
Chef Kim Hock wants to elevate Penang’s dining scene. He does so at Au Jardin, located in a warehouse structure in the former Hin Bus Depot. Instead of commuters, one finds surprising dishes using delicate ingredients like horseshoe crabs and Hokkaido scallops. For those who enjoy strong drinks with their food, head to adjacent Alchemy au Jardin, a gastrobar that pairs cocktails and whiskies with dishes, both of which are prepared on the spot.
Courtesy of Skillet (2)
A cozy insider spot, Skillet does its best to flesh out European dishes with both restraint and authenticity. Expect starters like pan-seared foie gras with prune and blacknut, and lobster with avocado and granny smith mousse as well as a commendable wagyu main course. The setting is equally luscious: an intriguing mix of Art Deco-inspired furnishings that give unexpected contrast to the restaurant’s inner city KL location.
Bref by Darren Chin
In the past decade, Darren Chin has been busy. He attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, then returned to KL to display his culinary chops at DC Restaurant. Now with Bref, the KL chef takes a homey yet still European turn. Dishes like buttermilk fried chicken and XL king tiger prawn continue to charm his fanbase, one that due to travel restrictions, has a greater hankering for food from far-off lands.
Bartender Shawn Chong is quite the cocktail trendsetter as far as KL’s bar scene goes. His previous project Omakase +Appreciate single-handedly invented the city’s speakeasy scene. Now with Mizukami Garden he takes a similar Japan-centric route. Order the refreshing Hendrick’s and Roselle Highball to take the sting off a sultry evening.
It’s clear that Chinatown is still the place to be, with some of the best new and long-beloved hotspots in KL and Malaysia overall — even if Covid shuttered the city’s nightlife for more than 18 months. At Lullaby, the youngish and the hip now come for the craft beers and the equally snazzy cocktails, all of which are served in a nostalgia-tinged, unvarnished, somewhat spooky, shophouse.
Courtesy of Baijiu (2)
How about some dim sum, and then some cocktails? At Baijiu, a joint that revels in chinoiserie chic, drinks like Jack not Paloma — a funky mix of tequila and jackfruit— is an apt distillation of what’s trending in KL’s diverse bar scene. Eclectic drinks aside, the bar with its tucked away Kwai Chai Hong setting could be something out of a post-war Malaya screenplay written by Tash Aw with an Ang Lee storyboard.
BEST NEW HOTELS IN MALAYSIA
Anantara Desaru Coast Resorts and Villas
Malaysia’s version of the French Riviera, Desaru Coast with its white-sand beaches is a holiday destination that pre-Covid was starting to ever-so-softly beep on the radar (it might be fair to call the whole region one of the best new openings in Malaysia!). Major resort players like Anantara entered in a big way, presenting its gracious Thai hospitality overtures in a local context. So expect modern tropical luxe interpretations in villas such as gleaming dark wood floors, and modern Malay-accented curios selected by Minor International’s resourceful design team. Also on offer: tasty local dishes like home-style chicken curry from the Malaysian-flavored Turmeric, and spritely seafood from Sea.Fire.Salt.
One&Only Desaru Coast
Courtesy of One&Only (3)
Adding sophistication and jet-set glamor to Desaru is One&Only’s first Southeast Asian outpost. The Kerry Hill-designed property has the trappings of a beach and rainforest hideaway for soon-returning international sunseekers and the local posturing beau monde. General manager Jerome Colson and his team has a well-practised style of hospitality that’s at once welcoming and familiar. Suggested activities include learning silat, an ancient Malay art of self-defence, and an indulgent Bastien Gonzalez manicure and pedicure at Chenot Spa.
Local celebrity and actress Tiara Jacquelina’s Tiara Escapes ticks all the right glamping boxes: Janda Baik’s vibrant greenery, glamorous villa-tents, and chill vibes. Glamping could be in one’s future if getting back to nature was as cushy an experience as at Tiara Escapes.
BEST NEW SPAS IN MALAYSIA
UR Spa at The Ruma Hotel and Residences is all about minimalist Malay-style interiors. On the menu: treatments tailored to address specific concerns like a deep tissue back massage to unkink knotted muscles. Or, opt for the UR a Goddess that combines a body exfoliation, an exquisite facial, and an invigorating foot treatment.
Sanctum Spa. Courtesy of EQ (2)
Sanctum Spa is one of the better kept secrets of the city’s movers and shakers who pop in for quick pick-me-ups before business dinners or society events. Try the Sanctum Energy Balance treatment that utilizes essential oils and crystals to restore equilibrium.
To read about more the Best New Openings in other countries around the region, see here.