Sarah Cotterill recommends the Roti at the first Malaysian bistro in Leeds
TO survive the summer migration of the student suburbs, you seemingly need to have one of the following: a flagship city-centre restaurant; a mash-up menu of gap-yah throwbacks and enough vegan options to sink a small continent, or a name ending in O or A (Salvos, Jinos, Ecco, Fika, Levanta, De Baga, The Cats Pyjama… nearly).
cinnamon, anise and perhaps lemongrass gives it a luxurious warmth, heat swelling with each dunk
Headingley’s Kuala Lumpur Cafe certainly ticks the last two boxes and, given its recent rising in the TripAdvisor ranks, who knows if central Leeds could be the next milestone for the six-month-old business. Almost instantly the manager proudly tells us about knocking Santorini off the top spot, enquiring as to whether that was the stimulus for our visit. Scrolling through the keyboard warriors’ comments, Santorini seems more popular for long-awaited chicken souvlaki and the fact that it doesn’t take cash – “Hope HMRC are getting their taxes!”, one man grumbles.
On the other hand, Kuala Lumpur is all glowing reports of affordable and authentic, the oversized chalkboard outside welcoming you to the first Malaysian bistro in Leeds. Underneath it reads: “If you like Chinese, Indian and Thai flavours, Malaysian food combines all of them flavours into unique blend.”
And the blend is pungent. Diffusing into the street, Kuala Lumpur lures you off Otley Road, lingering on your palate long after the meal, clinging to the fibres of your jumper. This blending, however, is intrinsic to the quality of the chef’s dishes; it’s the basis for the somewhat mysterious curry sauce served with their infamous roti canai (£3.99), it’s the loud, mechanical, daily union of the freshest ingredients that, we’re told, gives the manager a headache.
Presented with a little ochre-filled ramekin, it’s evident the roti canai is worth suffering for. You have to catch the drips of dipping sauce as it hovers towards your mouth, your fingers twitching and greasy, as it’s thinner than the sharp flavour would have you believe. The hint of cinnamon, anise and perhaps lemongrass gives it a luxurious warmth, heat swelling with each dunk. The just-blistered roses of paratha are flaky, ghee-fried and dirty. You could do some serious coronary damage here.
Our other starter, the gado-gado salad, pales in comparison. A thick satay sits on crunchy raw green beans, shredded cabbage and beansprouts, scattered with those crispy onions people stockpile from Ikea. Peanuts, however, make my nasi lemak (£3.99) main, offering a much-needed bite to another intense coconut milk curry. This variation, Gulai, is infused with pandan leaves; spongy tofu squares bobbing in the viscous bowl, four slices of cucumber garnishing a well-cooked rice mound. Two poppadom shards are disappointingly soggy, and oil overrides the mini dish of sambal alongside.
The special, mi goreng, is a huge plate of fried egg noodles. Comedically big. The residual gravy is a touch slimy, but barely cooked vegetables offer welcome texture, although the kitchen was a bit tight with the coriander scattering.
The service is super, the staff literally can’t do enough for you. Knocking over a tealight and apologising for the noise, suppling endless glassware for your fridge stock of BYOB bottles. It’s an oddly shaped cafe, with a second-floor galley dining room, photos of its namesake’s skyscrapers and market stalls hanging on the walls. White plastic school chairs and wood-effect tables sit under wicker lanterns that give off a warm magnolia glow.
For afters, there’s a vegan chocolate brownie, or the more traditional kuih bakar and kuih lapis (both £3.49). The first, Malaysia’s answer to the custard tart, is laced with pandan leaf, essence of which is folded through the mixture before steaming. The sesame seed-topped slices are neon green and foamy, with a light fragrant vanilla flavouring. The Kuih Lapis is even more vivid, quivering squares of layered coconut, the colour reminiscent of gummy milk teeth pick’n’mix. Both are surprisingly lukewarm.
Kuala Lumpur is a really cute, great value find. It’s almost deserved of its number-one spot on Headingley’s TripAdviser – just go for the Roti. Order two each.
Kuala Lumpur Café, 2-4 Bennett Road, LS6 3HN
Follow Sarah on Twitter
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Roti Canai 9, Gado-gado salad 3, Nasi Lemak with Gulai 6, Mi Goreng 4, Kuih Bakar 4, Kuih Lapis 3
Literally falling over chairs for you
A funny mixture of nostalgic, romantic and make-shift