Tag Archives: Kuala Lumpur

Restaurant Review: La Cocina (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

by Jayna Valen

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This Spanish cuisine restaurant has been a Subang Jaya icon for quite awhile now. I remember that more than a decade ago it was in USJ 9, within the Taipan Business Center. I was in college back then, and working part-time in a call center situated right behind the restaurant.

La Cocina’s head chef, Mr. Jega, sometimes stood outside the restaurant, in the junction-alleyway that I walked through to get to work. He was a friendly man with a ready smile, making small talk and always inviting me to come in and try the food. I always promised him that I would, but I didn’t think it would take me more than 10 years to finally step in! Hence, this is a long-delayed review.

La Cocina recently moved to Taipan Triangle in USJ 10. It’s my mum’s favourite restaurant, so we went there for dinner last week. I noticed that it’s gotten a cool new look – clean contemporary without compromising on the Spanish passion.

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Ambience and Service

I like the new makeover. The interior is spacious, unfussy and tastefully decorated, with artistic touches in all the right places. It makes for a very pleasant dining atmosphere that’s both rustic and modern at the same time. Service staff were friendly, polite and attentive. I felt that the décor could use a little more of that hot-blooded, Flamenco vibrancy of Spain. But hey, that’s just me and my usual flamboyant taste.

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Food

My mum had Pescado Fritos, which is essentially fish and chips (RM26). I ordered two dishes: the Queso Manchego (RM27.90), which is pure sheep milk cheese from the La Mancha region in Spain, and the Lamb Lasagne (RM27.90).

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Both main dishes were quite good. I wouldn’t say outstanding, but they were pleasant on the taste buds. The fish was firm and succulent, the fried batter crispy and not too oily. The lasagne could’ve done with a bit more minced lamb, but overall tasted great.

The cheese was excellent! It was soft and crumbly, flavourful without being overpowering. The serving size for the cheese was surprisingly small considering the price, so I made a mental note to check the prices of whole-wheel Manchego to see if the cost was justified.

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They stock an impressive selection of wines too. If you become a member of their wine club, you’ll enjoy discounts on selected wines and special corkage rates.

Summary

My overall experience here was quite delightful. It’s too bad that I forgot to have a look upstairs, but judging from the pictures on the website, it looks pretty impressive. I may consider going back to try one of their paellas sometime if I can get a friend to split the dish with.

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Special mention on the quality and freshness of all raw produce used in the dishes, as this imparted the lively burst of sun-energized ingredients into the final meal. Which, to me, makes all the difference in the end.

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My Ratings:

Food (Lamb Lasagne): 7/10
Food (Fish and Chips): 6/10
General Cleanliness: 10/10
Ambience: 8/10
Service: 10/10
Price: 5/10
Location (Subang Jaya, Kuala Lumpur): 7/10
Will I go back again : 7/10

Update: I received a nice message from Chef Jega himself! How lovely indeed.

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Related Links:

La Cocina – Spanish Restaurant and Bar

Restaurant Review: Bali & Spice (Subang Jaya, Malaysia)

Restaurant Review: Alexis Bistro and Wine Bar (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Devi’s Corner (Bangsar, Malaysia)

*Photo credit: Main image of paella dish is taken from La Cocina’s official webpage.

Restaurant Review: Bali & Spice (Subang Jaya, Malaysia)

by Jayna Valen and Vas P.

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So it was one of those weeknights when Vas and me were doing that back and forth thing about dinner plans.

“So where do you wanna go?”
“I dunno. Where do you wanna go?”
“Anywhere. Where’s good?”

Silence. We crack our heads. Then suddenly she’s like, “I know the perfect place! It’s nearby! Can you do large portions?”

I roll my eyes. But of course. I can literally eat my body’s weight worth of anything when hungry enough.

So we drive over to Da Men Mall in USJ Subang Jaya. It’s brand spanking new, but a pretty lame excuse for a mall in terms of shopping. However, since we were going there for food, whatever. We parked and made our way to this restaurant called Bali & Spice.

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Ambience And Service

It appears that Bali & Spice is under the management of the same group of restaurants as Ole-Ole Bali, which I am familiar with (branches in Sunway Pyramid and Empire Shopping Gallery). Just like their other restaurants, the first thing you notice is the gorgeous Balinese décor. I don’t know why, but I just have to meddle with the bronze gong at the entrance each time I go to one of these places. Yes, the gong is real AND nobody ever stops me when I do that. How cool is that?

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I really have to commend the management for the stunning interior décor of their chain of restaurants. The wall art, furniture, menu design and everything, literally perfect. From the woven mengkuang placemats to the fresh ginger lilies in glass vases, an impressive effort. A 10/10 from me for ambience, vibe, visual and styling. Service was excellent. The serving staff were all attired in traditional Balinese clothing in keeping with the theme.

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Food

THIS. Food like this is what I call value for money, time and effort spent in eating out. I ordered the Jimbaran Grill (RM39) and Vas had the Ikan Salmon Bakar (RM37). Generous portions, reasonable prices. The Jimbaran Grill consists of grilled white fish fillet, large prawns and squid accompanied by two types of sambal (spicy paste). If you’re a seafood buff, this dish is a must-try. It’s such a divine pleasure to the tastebuds.

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The seafood was perfectly seasoned and spiced, cooked impeccably and presented beautifully. I’m great at detecting individual flavors in spice blends, but these dishes gave me a good challenge. I could taste the tang of lemongrass and ginger flower, but everything else was a pleasant mystery. I say the chefs deserve recognition for their outstanding culinary skills. Great job!

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I took a bite of the salmon. It wasn’t as satisfying as mine, but good nevertheless. I think salmon in general isn’t the best fish for Indonesian-Malay cooking styles, considering the oily flesh. Still, no complaints. We had matching Indonesian salads that accompanied the dishes. Not sure what that’s called, but it goes great with the sambal.

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Summary

I would highly recommend any of the restaurants under the same management. The overall quality and service has remained great over the years. Food isn’t overly spicy either, so it’s a perfect place to take your foreign guests.

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My Ratings:

Food (General): 9/10
Food (Jimbaran Grill): 10/10
Food (Ikan Salmon Bakar): 8/10
General Cleanliness: 10/10
Ambience: 9/10
Service: 10/10
Price: 8/10
Location (Subang Jaya, Kuala Lumpur): 7/10
Will I go back again : 10/10

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Related Posts:

Restaurant Review: Alexis Bistro and Wine Bar (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Restaurant Review: Fuel Shack (Bangsar South, Malaysia)

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Devi’s Corner (Bangsar, Malaysia)

Restaurant Review: Alexis Bistro And Wine Bar (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

by Jayna Valen

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Our group of eight decided to have an early Christmas team dinner, so we made a reservation at Alexis @ The Gardens in Midvalley mall. We were a little surprised when the waiter ushered us to a table outside the restaurant, but it didn’t bother us too much so we accepted the spot. However, if you don’t like the idea of dining in the middle of a busy mall, do specify it when making your reservation at the Midvalley outlet.

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Ambience and Service

The restaurant décor is chic-minimalist with a hint of lux, per Alexis’s usual vibe. The mood lighting is perfect for long, relaxed conversations. A little noisy, but perhaps that’s just a seasonal thing as it’s close to the holidays and the mall is crowded. The staff were helpful; they were kind enough to ‘rush’ an order of strong coffee for my boss who was having a bad migraine.

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Food 

They have an impressive wine selection and an interestingly varied tapas menu. I had the Slow Roasted Duck Magret (RM48) – it was well cooked and succulent, but the portion was ridiculously small considering the price. It was gone in literally four bites. This dish is a real disappointment in terms of serving size. I’d never order it again.

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My colleague Esmond had the Sarawak Laksa at RM29. It was a big portion and looked really tempting. He said it tasted good, though not exactly on par with the traditional dish (Esmond is from Sarawak). Choi Wan had Angelhair Aglio Olio (RM45, regular-sized portion), which she remarked was satisfactory. It came with this cool-looking crayfish thing, which was cleanly split in half and seasoned liberally.

Syirah ordered the Slow Cooked Lamb Shank (RM72), which came with pilau rice, pomegranate and smoked capsicum. I tried a little. It was tender and came off the bone easily, but it was too bland for Syirah and me. Considering that we’re Indian and Malay by ethnicity, we’re probably too used to stronger spices when it comes to lamb.

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Other dishes that came our way were Baked Button Mushrooms (RM20), Fried Calamari Rings (RM24) and three orders of steak in varying weights (Striploin Grain-Fed @ RM70 / 220gms, Ribeye Black Angus @ RM85 / 220gms, Tenderloin Grain-Fed @ RM92 / 200gms). My buddies gave the food an average to above-average rating.

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For dessert, we tried their famed Tiramisu (RM17.80). It certainly lives up to its reputation! This dessert was exceptionally good, and the serving size was generous. It had an interesting chiffon-pudding texture, topped with coarsely chopped nuts and drizzled over with a caramel-like sauce. Rich, creamy and flamboyant on the tongue, I imagine this would go great with a good, strong long black or espresso. Completely worth the price and I would say it’s quite the masterpiece.

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Summary

I’d definitely go back, but unless they do something about the duck serving size, it’s off my choice list for good. Pity, it was rather delicious and I love duck. Will definitely consider a takeaway for that divine Tiramisu in future. Do note that it’s notoriously difficult to find parking spots in Midvalley on weekends, so if you’re visiting this outlet, it may help to go a little earlier (plus make reservations in advance).

My Ratings:

Food (General): 7/10
Food (Slow Roasted Duck Magret): 6/10
Food (Slow Cooked Lamb Shank): 4/10
Food (Dessert – Tiramisu): 10/10
Food (Baked Button Mushrooms): 7/10
Drinks: 8/10
General Cleanliness: 10/10
Service: 8/10
Price: 5/10
Location (Midvalley, Kuala Lumpur): 6/10
Will I go back again : 8/10

Related Posts:

Restaurant Review: Fuel Shack (Bangsar South, Malaysia)

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Devi’s Corner (Bangsar, Malaysia)

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Moorthy’s Mathai (USJ, Malaysia)

 

Hiking Equipment Review: Deuter AirContact 40+10 SL

by Jayna Valen

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My Experience

I’ve been hiking and backpacking since forever. The funny thing is, I never bothered to ‘invest’ in a proper backpack. I just bought whatever was on sale in the market, would fit on my back and had sufficient space for a bunch of stuff.

That worked well enough for a while, until I ran into some annoying issues. My Lonsdale backpack held up surprisingly well over  years of travel abuse, but the PVC interior lining turned to dust one fine day for no apparent reason. As a person with allergy issues, this was a complete disaster.

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I’ve seen friends and travel partners who had it worse while on the road with me: bags falling apart at the seams, zips and buckles getting damaged, rats chewing through canvas, monkeys learning how to unzip compartments on unattended bags, back problems due to uneven distribution of carrying weight, etc.

Space was also an issue with smaller backpacks, as you’d eventually need a bigger piece of luggage for check-in, which can be a hassle when you need to travel quickly with minimal fuss. Also, wheeled luggage bags can be a nightmare when it comes to rural places. I’ve had to drag a 30-kilo bag through village sand paths (the wheels won’t work), broken cement, damaged roads, mud, potholes, up lengthy flights of stairs, cow dung and worse.

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Needless to say, I’d had enough of that. I can’t believe I didn’t get a proper backpack sooner. I HATE my stuff falling apart mid-travel. So, when I came across a random Deuter backpack sale at Sunway Pyramid, I got myself not one, but two bags (50 and 70 litres). Malaysians will know why I did this; Deuter bags are notoriously expensive here. At 50% off the regular price, it was a steal.

I was also curious with regards to quality and performance. I’m always sceptical when it comes to hyped-up mainstream things. Was Deuter really the gold standard for hiking bags, or was it all just meaningless marketing and branding fluff?

Here’s my review of the Deuter AirContact 40 + 10 SL model (for women).

Test Trip Details

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I backpacked alone to the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia for 4 days and 3 nights. While this doesn’t count as a challenging outdoor hike, it wasn’t a walk in the park either. My bag weighed a total of 13 kgs – I packed it to maximum capacity for testing purposes.

What the travel involved (per way) was a 10-minute Uber trip to the train station, a two-transit train ride totalling 2 hours of travel to the central bus terminal (TBS), an 8-hour bus ride to the island jetty, a 40-minute speedboat ride to the island, then walking by foot along the beach for another 20 minutes to the chalet. It was a lot of getting to, then on and off various modes of transportation – more tiring than it sounds.

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Comfort and Design

Amazingly comfortable as the hip and shoulder straps are well-padded, highly adjustable and can be customized for length and fit perfectly. The AirContact models are also designed for optimum air circulation to prevent excessive sweating during wear – this would be great for long hikes in hot weather.

Aesthetic-wise, I loved the blue color. All the female-model bags come with a cute yellow flower that’s actually a hair tie – how ingenious! There’s a contoured steel spine structure that fits your back curvature and gives the pack some structure. Most bags come with a handy water-proof rain cover, which is great for repelling mud too.

 

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Capacity and Weight

I was surprised that there was less space than I expected for 50 litres. However, when packed to full capacity, 13kgs was about as much as I could carry comfortably on my back (I weigh 45kgs, am slight in build with fairly good core strength). The bag itself isn’t the lightest model either, as it weighs almost 2.3kgs by itself – consider another model for long hikes.

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What’s really great about Deuter designs is that they have tons of mini compartments, loops, clips and spaces which you can literally stow, fasten or hang ANYTHING imaginable. The only limit would be your ability to carry the weight.

Durability

The material doesn’t look very long-wearing, but then again I know from experience that the nylon is light but extremely wear-resistant. The seams and stitching are pretty sturdy.

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Summary

I was pretty spent after my trip back, but it was a good kind of tired. I felt like my core got a really good workout. I could actually notice the difference in my abs! More muscle tone and flatter. Overall, no regrets, though I’d recommend a lighter model for longer hikes.

If you see one on discount, buy it! Absolutely worth the money. In the words of a good friend, the proud owner of a Deuter that has survived over 15 years of hardcore outdoor life:

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“These bags? They last forever”.

 

Related Links:

10 Tips for Women Travelling Alone in India

Ashram Vacations: An Introduction

Deuter (Official Page)

Travel Review: Boracay, Philippines

by Jayna Valen

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Boracay! The jewel of the Philippines, some say. Cerulean-turquoise waters, tropical sun, over seven thousand islands, fresh seafood, succulent mangoes and all the great things Southeast Asia has to offer. The place has always been a mystery to me, and I’m glad I finally set foot there.

Scenery, view and island vibe

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The best thing about the combination of tropical sunlight, lush volcanic-soil vegetation and clear seawater is the way the colors come alive. Emerald-chartreuse greens punctuated by lazy seabirds, sparkling sapphire waters fading into the golden-white sand. A literal feast for the eyes. It’s the kind of island where you can sit around all day, eating dragonfruits and letting the purple juice run down your chin, taking in the dazzling brilliance of your surroundings and just do absolutely nothing. Yes, it’s that beautiful.

Vibe-wise, it’s laid back. Quiet and relaxed. Not overly crowded with touristy types. Most people on the island appear to be simple village folk. They live fuss-free lives, plying their trade, usually selling local produce and seafood. It’s a far cry from the booze-and-drug-fuelled-party-hype of Balinese and Thai beach nightlife; nothing like the backpacker islands on the Malaysian East Coast either. Boracay is like a legendary island princess – exotic, mysterious and modest, whose real beauty is to be seen and appreciated by the chosen few. Don’t come here for crazy drunken nights and full moon parties.

Food

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Seafood is cheap, fresh and plentiful. Prices are reasonable at tourist-standard spots. The main area in town where most restaurants are based is called D’Mall – not quite a mall, more like an open-air area of eateries, souvenier shops, clothing stalls and the usual stuff catering to tourists.

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If you’re from Malaysia or Indonesia, be prepared for the ‘unusual’ taste of some dishes. I’m adventurous and adaptable enough, but I’ve heard many complaints along the lines of ‘Filipino food tastes very weird”. There’s a mini supermarket in town where you can buy stuff like toiletries, milk, cookies, instant coffee, bread and crackers. I found that prices at this place were quite high.

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I’ll be honest; I didn’t quite like the fish and chips fried in coconut oil (yes, coconut oil of all things – The Hobbit Tavern) and the bland soup featuring a sad chunk of chicken with the life boiled out of it (Jeepney). On the other hand, the grilled squid was great, with just the right amount of flavor and tangy zest (Jeepney), as was the seafood pasta (The Hobbit Tavern). Stay away from the soupy stuff and you should be fine. Food in general is not overly spicy.

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Local tip: A wonderful Filipino girl at Jeepney did this for me and my friend when we said we were Malaysian. She chopped up some bird’s eye chillies, put the pieces into a saucer and poured some salty soy sauce over it. Then, she squeezed lime juice into the mix and gave it a good stir, before telling us to use it as a dip for seafood. It was literally AMAZING. I would’ve never thought something so simple could bring out the subtle flavours of seafood so well, and it had just the right amount of zing. Perfect!

Places to stay

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Accommodation is easily available, from budget to more high-end places. I stayed at Shangri-La Boracay because my friends work there, and we got the rooms for free (lucky me). And Shang being Shang, there’s nothing much to say about it except everything was literally perfect. The resort is gorgeous, the architecture and landscaping stunning. You’re waited on hand and foot by extremely attentive staff. In other words, Shangri-La = an impeccable experience in all ways. The only downside was that the resort was on the other end of the island, and getting ‘out’ was impossible by foot. However, they had regular shuttles to town for that purpose.

Shopping

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Forget it. If you already have experience travelling in Southeast Asia, there’s literally nothing new to buy here. It’s all the same stuff again and again. Beach dresses, shell jewellery, keychains, wife-beaters, mugs, tote bags and Rasta-themed red-yellow-green stuff (I never figured out Boracay’s obsession with reggae culture, but I bought a Bob Marley pareo anyway because I’m a huge fan). Virgin coconut oil is sold everywhere, as are local dried mangoes. And oh, they have purses made of real, whole bullfrogs, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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Weather

Tropical mostly with occasional rain. Plan carefully around the island’s monsoon seasons as the weather can change drastically. We went out sightseeing one night and were suddenly caught in a full-blown typhoon that came out of nowhere. Best to carry a light raincoat or foldable umbrealla when you’re out and about.

Currency

Filipino pesos. It appears that exchange rates are far better in your own country, unless you carry US Dollars with you. Money changers are easy to find.

Nightlife

I didn’t go to any clubs, but the island seemed to generally lack good nightlife. Nobody tried to sell me drugs or sex either.

Beach activities

There’s the usual like snorkeling, diving, paraw sailing, catamaran, yacht, jetski and more. PADI courses are offered on Boracay, but I decided to do mine in the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia.

Verdict?

Great place to go for a couple, a bunch of friends or with family. Expect slightly higher prices and be wary of the monsoon season (the typhoons in the Philippines are not to be taken lightly). I wouldn’t recommend single travellers to go here as there isn’t all that much to do alone.

 

Restaurant Review: Fuel Shack (Bangsar South, Malaysia)

by Jayna Valen

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So, we went out for lunch last week to this place, which is fairly new. If you want to try it out this weekend, it’s located in this building called Connexion @ Nexus, on the Ground floor between Souled Out and Starbucks, Bangsar South.

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I sulked a little after we chose our table and sat down, and I had a good look at what the other diners were having. It sucked even more once the food arrived. Why? Because this place makes me want to have a boyfriend, especially like this one bodybuilder ex I had.

You see, I absolutely loved the Coke Float, but the Fuel Shack serves it in only one size: freaking GIGANTIC. It was so much more convenient and fun to share large helpings of food when I was dating someone. Plus, when your date has the appetite of a water buffalo, you never have to worry about how you’d look pigging out, nor fret that any food would go to waste. Especially as a chick. So date me someone.

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Nah, I’m playing. I’d rather down my body weight’s worth of sugary carbonated float and welcome diabetes with open arms than risk yet another mess of a relationship, just so I can share a float. Which, by the way, I totally ended up wasting.

But seriously, Fuel Shack people, if any of you guys are reading this – wtf? PLEASE offer realistic sizes for floats. Pretty please. The stuff is delicious, but we’re not whales.

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The food in general is above average. We were a team of 10, so there was a variety of stuff I managed to get a taste of. I asked around and everyone seemed to agree with one thing more or less: the fare was a tad bit lacking in flavor and salt. It was pretty good stuff otherwise, reminiscent of TGI Friday’s and Chilli’s, just a little lacklustre overall.

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To their credit, all ingredients used in the dishes were incredibly fresh, and that’s something I really appreciate when it comes to eating out. The Chilli Chicken Fries (above – RM13) and Nachos (below – RM29) were amazingly good – couldn’t get enough of those. Fried Tempura Calamari, so-so (RM21).

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My Crispy-Skinned Grilled Salmon (below – RM38) had great texture, but the accompanying sauce (which was served separately) had an odd vinegary taste. I eagerly dumped the whole sauceboat over my salmon before I even had a taste, so don’t be the idiot that I was. I chose mac and cheese, sauteed vegetables and mushrooms for the three accompanying sides. Overall, my meal was alright, though slightly on the bland side. Pretty small helping of fish.

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Would I return? I would, since I work so near the place. But considering Bangsar South’s horrendous traffic situation, I’d probably not bother if I had to make a long journey to get here, or eat close to rush hour.

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The staff are lovely people too, good service. Be warned: if it’s your birthday, they’re going to make you stand on a chair and sing into a salt shaker.

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My Ratings:

Food (General): 7/10

Food (Crispy-Skinned Grilled Salmon): 6/10

Food (Chilli Chicken Fries): 8/10

Food (Nachos): 8/10

Food (Fried Tempura Calamari): 6/10

Food (BBQ Chicken Wings, according to my buddy Esmond): 7/10

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Drink (Coke Float): 8/10

General Cleanliness: 10/10

Service: 10/10

Price: 7/10

Location (PJ): 5/10

Will I go back again : 10/10

 

Related Posts:

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Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Devi’s Corner, Bangsar

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Sri Nirwana Maju, USJ 9

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Moorthys Mathai, USJ 4

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Sri Ganapathi Mess, PJ

Restaurant Review: Alexis Bistro And Wine Bar (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Do Crash Diets Really Work?

by Shrishthi Brahmarupa

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The short answer is, no – they don’t. The health experts were right. A healthy, balanced diet will do more to help you lose weight in the long term, but starving yourself is always a bad idea.

What happens with most ‘starve-yourself-skinny’ diets is this: while you may lose weight temporarily by depriving yourself of food, you’ll also mess up your normal metabolism and shock your body into ‘starvation mode’. When this happens, your body will start preparing to conserve more energy instead of burning it.

The old saying ‘you are what you eat’ couldn’t be more true. Think about this; the food you consume is constantly transforming into bits and pieces of your body – it gets digested and broken down, then replaces old, worn and dead cells. The better the quality of your food, the better the ‘quality’ of the body built from it. Now, what kind of results can one expect from a diet consisting of mainly factory-processed, synthetic-additive-laden or stale food?

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So guess what happens when you start eating normally again, or lose control and go on a food binge? Bingo. Your body stores more calories than usual. This is why on-and-off dieting (and extreme dieting) is bad for you in the long term.

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So what’s a better solution? Eating better and ‘eating cleaner’ consistently. Practise moderation and make educated choices when it comes to your food. Think long term, because it takes time for diet changes to reflect in your body.

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What you should aim for is healthy weight and a fit, strong body. Also, be realistic about your expectations. If you have a naturally bigger frame, you may never be skinny, even at your healthiest point.

On the other hand, if you’re lean no matter what you eat, it’s unwise to push your body too hard to artificially ‘bulk up’. This will put unnecessary strain on your system. Respect your body and how it naturally works. If you know you’re exercising adequately, eating clean and nourishing food, getting the rest you need and generally living a fairly healthy lifestyle, that’s good enough. Keep your fitness and health goals realistic and don’t harm your body.

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Dieting Myths

Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates, oils and fats are not bad for you. You actually need them in your diet so your body functions at an optimum level. For instance, you do need healthy fats and quality oils in your diet to keep your skin supple and your systems well-lubricated – you can get these from extra-virgin olive oil, ahimsa dairy products, unprocessed nuts and grains and ripe avocados (monounsaturated fat).

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The real culprits are overly-processed foodstuff with cheap, synthetic ingredients (preservatives, artificial color, etc). These are hard for your body to break down, digest and absorb effectively. These foods also leave all kinds of unhealthy residue in your system (known as ama in Ayurveda) and can cause various health issues like gas, bloating and allergies.

And that’s not all. Hardcore dieting can leech your body of important nutrients, causing lethargy, weakness, fainting, weak immunity, dry skin, acne, cracked heels and worse. Always aim for fresh, vitamin and mineral-rich foods.

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Here are a few quick lists (with examples) to help improve your diet as a long-term solution to weight management.

Foods to Avoid:

  • Processed carbohydrates (factory-made noodles, instant porridge)
  • Refined sugar (white cane sugar)
  • Low-grade cooking oil (recycled cooking oil)
  • Leftovers (no longer than 2 days in the refridgerator)
  • Margerine (all kinds)
  • Unrefrigerated cooked food (Ayurvedically considered unfit for consumption after 3 hours)
  • Processed fruit juices

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Healthy Food Substitutes:

  • Honey, brown sugar, palm sugar, molasses and jaggery (instead of white sugar)
  • Wholemeal bread (instead of white bread)
  • Unpolished, parboiled or brown rice
  • Fresh milk (instead of recombined or powdered milk)
  • Extra virgin or virgin vegetable oils (instead of fractionated oils)
  • Whole grains (instead of processed grains)
  • Wholemeal flour (instead of white flour)
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables (instead of canned or preserved)

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Additional Eat-Healthy Tips:

  • Consume something fresh every day (fruits or vegetables)
  • Match each serving of carbohydrates with an equal-sized serving of fresh produce
  • Eat normally for breakfast and lunch, but prepare a nutrient-dense, low-carbohydrate dinner (e.g. a large bowl of salad with a few cubes of feta cheese, plus a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil)

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A Final Note

Never torment your body for the sake of unrealistic ideals portrayed by the media. You may never be supermodel-skinny even at your healthiest point, and that’s perfectly okay.

Love your body, respect it, appreciate it and help it stay healthy. It’s been working hard for you since the day you were born, through millions of complex bodily processes every single day.

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Related Link:

Kitchiri, the Best Sattvic Detox Food

Fashion Photoshoot: Project Israa

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by Jayna Valen and Sashi

Why We Did It

Sashi is a friend of mine, and a civil engineer by profession. Like me, he’s an artist, passion-wise. We often speak about collaborating on art projects but are always too busy with our day jobs. However, it finally happened. This is the first art project we did together. And what can I say? It was an amazing experience. We had lots of fun and learned a lot in the process.

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As a fine art photographer, Sashi loves to explore unconventional ideas. I am no less eccentric, which is probably why we make a good team (when we’re not fighting, at least).

This shoot was pretty much a regular fashion shoot, but since it was the first time we were working together on a personal art project, we didn’t get too crazy with things. He gave me some basic guidelines on the mood and emotions he wanted to capture in the model, but he left the fashion styling and wardrobe choices entirely to me. I didn’t really know what to expect either, so I formed some mental concepts and decided to go with the flow.

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As an ex-fashion editor of CLEO and wardrobe stylist on film sets, I’d worked with a lot of models before. From directing photo shoots and costuming to doubling up as a makeup artist, I’ve done a bunch of these things and thoroughly enjoyed myself along the way, before I ditched it all for the drab stability of financial-services cubicle life. These projects are my escape routes from my self-inflicted, modern-day slavery.

I’ve also been a die-hard fan of Vogue and haute couture since I could read, so you can say fashion is in my blood. My mum is a seamstress; a very good one too. I had all my dresses tailor-made for me right up to my teens. Sometimes, I helped my mum sew, especially during Diwali when there was too much to do. I literally grew up steeped in fashion.DSC_2399-1

My Fashion Styling for the Model

Our model expressed her wishes to be shot in street-style denim and muted colors, with some implied nudity thrown in. In fact, she’d contacted Sashi after seeing his fine art photography with a nude model, so we knew she was comfortable with that kind of art.

I asked if she was okay to try a saree, and she was game. I was excited; I loved draping sarees on non-Indian women. With an Indian woman you kind of know what it’s going to look like, but with a woman of a different ethnicity, it’s always a wonderful surprise.

I requested for a few pictures of her, full-length and without makeup, to get some ideas and inspiration on how to dress her. Then, I began the process of picking the outfits.

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She is from Sudan, and had the exotic, ethnic features of people from that region. I decided to use outfits that contrasted with the idea of fashion that’s generally associated with people of African roots (bright colors, turbans, bold prints, etc.). I asked her to keep the makeup neutral and natural so it would blend with a variety of looks.

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Her major plus points were her lovely figure and long legs, so I decided to play those features up with the clothes I chose for her. I picked a raincloud-grey jersey dress, an acid-wash denim miniskirt and jacket combo, a white and blue Bohemian-inspired ensemble, a sheer beige chiffon top and finally, a black saree with champagne and frosted copper detailing. With the modern clothes, I was aiming for a breezy, natural look – the kind you’d see on a city girl who’d gotten dressed to stroll the streets on a beautiful summer’s day.

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I loved the way the pictures turned out, they were perfect to me. The ones of her in the saree stunned me though. I don’t know how or why, but she suddenly transformed into a goddess the minute I finished draping the material over her. She just immediately became more elegant and graceful. She glowed. A demure, dark radiance. A saree does that to women, I’ve noticed. It brings out that sacred feminine beauty in ways that other outfits simply can’t.

I chose the saree based on her name, which means ‘Night Journey’ in Arabic. Here she is, the dark moon draped in a galaxy of stars. And Sashi captured her resplendence perfectly, in that precise moment when our energies of creation aligned. I created the look, she created the magic and he created the art with a click.

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Sashi Speaks

As a photographer, it would be a crime to say the role of a photographer is only limited to identifying special moments. I can be vilified for such a claim by the photographers’ community. I don’t really care. With the advent of technology, endless auto-modes and presets, anyone can capture a good quality photograph, even with a mobile phone.

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So what separates a photographer from a camera owner? It’s the eye for tasteful details that touch the artist in everyone. It’s just like good music. Everyone likes it but no one knows why and the composer would have most certainly not composed it academically.

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I’ve always been on the receiving end of questions like what is it that I intend to convey through a particular photograph. My answer is always the same; none. Art is just a reflection of our inner being manifesting in completely purposeless action; purposeless as far as satiating our rudimentary survival needs is concerned.  Art is self-expression, something as simple as a wink or showing your middle finger in anger. It should not be academic. Do you calculate how high you have to raise your hand and the moment force to be applied to express the right amount of anger when you show your middle finger? That’s my type of photography. I don’t overthink the outcome. I don’t plan my shots. I don’t think about the rule of thirds, shadows behind the nasal bridge and the grains in the highlights. The details are always there for us to see, everywhere and anywhere, in the darkness and in bright sunshine. You don’t see the stars during the full moon and when you get to see the stars during new moon, you don’t get to see the moon. The moments are just beautifully unfolding perpetually. We fail to see them more often than not.

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I am an impulsive photographer. I click each time I see a good moment from my perspective. I don’t give out too many instructions, let alone clear ones. I told Shrishthi (Jayna) a few things. “I am a fine art photographer. Whoever I shoot and whatever the theme, I want my pictures to be a double edged sword. Seductive without being obscene, raw yet aesthetic, gracefully minimalistic. Strictly no manipulation of body parts. Capture human beauty in its natural state”.

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She suggested a little bit of makeup, some clothes, and maybe heels. I would rather take a lot of stick than to receive a diplomatic compliment. Diplomacy and normalcy are like flaccid dick. Not much use. A hard on is debatable. Men think a hard on makes them superhuman. Women feel it’s equally boring because men don’t last. But there it is; a double edged sword and hoopla. Anyway, I was just kidding.

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All three of us showed up on the day of the photoshoot. I set up some basic lighting. The stylist decided on the outfit, the model posed with the input from the stylist and I clicked. Both of them created the moments and the details for me. They were brilliant. I just needed to click at the right time. I think the outcome of their work was quite impressive.

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Related Links:

What Does it Take to be a Model?

10 Tips For Women Traveling Alone In India

by Jayna Valen

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Dhanvanthari Ashram, Kerala – January 2013

India is an amazing country. I’ve traveled extensively through it and I absolutely love it. I don’t know of any other place with such contrasts and extremes that blend so seamlessly, forming a pandemonium of sights, sounds and flavors that assail the senses in ways you don’t expect. The vermillion and gold, spices and incense, poverty and palaces. The Himalayas. Ashrams. The glitz of Bollywood. Really, there isn’t any place quite like it.

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Unfortunately, India has earned a reputation of being unsafe for solo female travelers. That’s a pity, because some of the most amazing people I know are from India. My male Indian friends are real gentlemen, with great charm and impeccable manners.

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Meenakshi Ashram, Madurai – February 2017

My Experience as a Solo Female Traveler in India

I’ve traveled around India quite a bit on my own and faced no major issues. With some precautions, you can too. I’m all for women’s rights, empowering women and everything along those lines. However, it’s just wiser to take precautions as a lone female. Some of my tips may irk hardcore feminists out there, but the way I look at it, better safe than sorry.

Here are some tips for staying safe as a solo female traveler in India.

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Yoga Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh – September 2016

1: Plan all your transportation and transits seamlessly. This applies to all modes of transportation you intend to use in India, including flights, trains, busses and hired vehicles. Ensure that you won’t be waiting alone in places that could be dangerous. Take extra precautions to ensure you won’t be waiting ANYWHERE alone after sundown. It’s a lot safer to book hotel pick-up services instead of attempting to flag down local rickshaws and taxis after evening hours, although these cost a little more.

When booking flights that require transit, bear in mind that many Indian airports will not allow you into the airport premises until 2 or 3 hours before your actual flight. I have spent long hours waiting outside airports because they just wouldn’t let me in. They’re especially strict at the Delhi and Chennai international airports. Thankfully, I travel with a yoga mat, so I just roll that out on the floor and read a book until it’s time to go in.

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2. Book transportation and accommodation in advance. This applies to the major stuff in your plans, such as flights and hotels. You really don’t want to risk ending up somewhere and finding out that all the ‘decent’ hotels are fully booked and you have nowhere to stay for the night. There are just too many dodgy characters waiting around to take advantage of desperate, clueless foreigners.

The same applies to transportation; it’s just much safer and better for your peace of mind when you know you have a driver waiting to pick you up. As with most third-world countries, there are touts everywhere who will harass and try to rip you off, especially if it’s obvious that you’re not local. Most reputable travel agencies have websites and are very responsive to online enquiries. Do some research and see which one has the best reviews – TripAdvisor is a great place to start. I have always booked everything online, from transportation to hotels and even ashram stays, even for less-touristy places like Rishikesh.

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3. Carry credit cards and make sure they work. Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere in India these days, which is wonderful. Often, they’re lifesavers during an emergency.

Before you travel, inform your credit card company so that your card doesn’t get blocked (they may assume it was stolen if you try to use it at a new location). Check that your cards aren’t maxed out, and settle your minimal monthly payments before you travel.

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ISKCON Temple, Delhi – September 2016

4. Dress modestly. Many modern Indian men are well-educated, decent and have a global mindset when it comes female attire. However, as with anywhere in the world, people have differing mentalities. I would suggest that you carry a few large, lightweight cotton shawls that you can use to cover your chest and shoulders when you need to (for example, if you’re taking a public bus – this will prevent perverts staring down your cleavage).

Dressing like a local Indian woman will also get you much respect and appreciation everywhere. I noticed that I received exceptionally good treatment when I was dressed in a saree or other ethnic Indian attire – Indians love it when you embrace their culture, and will be more inclined to help you and treat you well.

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Ashram Schedule, Rishikesh – September 2016

5. Carry adequate medication and sort out your vaccinations before traveling. Imagine getting a bad case of food poisoning when you’re travelling alone, in a country known for bad toilets and overcrowded hospitals. Absolutely not worth it, especially if you pass out somewhere and end up at the mercy of strangers. Ask your doctor for emergency medication for diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, flu and allergies. Get your vaccinations in advance to ensure they’ll be effective by the time you travel.

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Women’s Dorm at Meenakshi Ashram, Madurai – February 2017

6. Have addresses and contact numbers handy. It really helps to carry full addresses and phone numbers with you in India, especially those of friends, relatives, hotels, ashrams, your country’s embassy and places you want to visit on your own.

Note down landmarks and nearby streets when possible, as this can help the local drivers locate your address easier. Many street names are similar in India, and this will save you time. Don’t rely solely on your phone – even the best technology can fail. I strongly recommend that you print these out.

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Unpacking at Hare Krishna Hills, Delhi – September 2016

7. Don’t underestimate the heat. This is especially true if you’re pale-skinned and not used to scorching sun, especially the burning South Indian heat. Stay hydrated, pack enough sunscreen, carry protective eyewear and something to cover your head.

8. Carry ‘special needs’ items with you. Some things are notoriously hard to find in India, especially in more remote areas. This includes tampons, tweezers, contact lens solution, specific types of skin care and certain OTC medication.

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Waiting Outside Chennai International Airport – February 2017

9. Don’t take unnecessary risks. I definitely believe one shouldn’t be too careful when traveling. However, if you ask me, India is not the place to be reckless, especially not when you’re a woman traveling alone. Your safety is priority at all times. Eat at clean places. Drink only boiled water or hygienically-packaged drinks. When you go out alone, tell your hotel where you’re going and what time to expect you back. Don’t accept rides, food or drinks from strangers (you can decline politely with a made-up excuse if you don’t want to hurt their feelings).

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Lakshman Jhula Bridge, Rishikesh – September 2016

10. Notify your country’s embassy before you travel. This may seem like an extreme measure, but I do this if I’m travelling to remote places alone. I email copies of my passport, travel documentation and a brief travel itinerary to my country’s embassy. In case of an emergency such as a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, it’ll make things a lot easier for the authorities to locate you and send help.

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Devi’s Corner (Bangsar, Malaysia)

by Jayna Valen

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It baffles me as to why this place is still so popular. Is it just the closest and most convenient place for Bangsar folks to have a full banana leaf meal? I’m not sure, but I’ll stick with that assumption.

Alicia and me went over during lunch hour on Tuesday. It’s been five years since I last ate here, and this visit served to remind me why I didn’t bother going back. We were seated for a good 15 minutes with no one coming over to take our order or ask us what we wanted. We tried to wave some waiters over, but our existence in that restaurant was about as significant as their greasy furniture. Eventually, one came over and said “Banana leaf upstairs.”

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Why, thank you. Perhaps you should have waited till we were on the brink of starvation before making that grand revelation.

So yes, it did appear that upstairs had a pretty well-oiled system of banana leaf food service going on. Service was prompt, systematic and quick, but don’t expect friendliness or warmth. Fairly clean environment overall, by local standards.

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Food:

In general, everything served here was overwhelmingly commercial-masala-powder bland, if you know what I mean. It just made me sad. There was no personal touch, no secret spice blend. Nothing sexy to entice the tongue or excite the senses. No enthusiasm on the cook’s part (considering the wages they’re probably paid, who can blame them?). Food was fairly fresh, though some of the chutneys were cold.

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I asked for the house specialty curry, and this dude unceremoniously dumped a truckload of crab curry onto my rice before I could say anything. Well, okay, that just meant I couldn’t try any other curry since my leaf was literally flooded. The verdict? The crab curry tasted of nothing but factory-milled masala. I may as well have swallowed a bag of curry powder with a glass of hot water. Fried veggies were crisp and drenched in oil. And there wasn’t enough mango in the sugar chutney.

Perhaps their only saving grace was the mutton, but even that was suffocating in masala. The least they could do to honor the fact that a goat gave its life up for our tamasic needs was to, at least, cook it properly (well, sorry for the disservice, goat). I was too depressed to even ask for mooru molega and rasam.

Bear in mind that this review is just a reflection of my own personal taste and opinions, and I am an excellent cook. If I cooked like that at home though, I’d probably be on the receiving end of really good seruppu adi from my mum, plus liberal cringeworthy thuppe from my brothers. Just to be fair, I asked Alicia to taste everything I ate – similar sentiments from her side.

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By the way, here’s a little more info about the pricing. One banana leaf set, one side of mutton, a glass of cold water and a glass of lychee juice came up to RM27. I’m not even going to bother going into details about the breakdown. Here’s an interesting fact though: the lychee drink is RM 5.50 downstairs, and RM6.50 upstairs. Why? Air-conditioning.

So, was it worth my time, total Uber fare price of RM15, plus my bill and experience? Should you visit this place? I’ll let you decide.

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My Ratings:

Food (Standard Vegetarian Banana Leaf meal): 4/10
Food (Signature Dish – Mutton peratal): 6/10
Food (Signature Dish – Crab Curry): 3/10
General Cleanliness: 6/10
Service: 5/10
Price: 4/10
Location (Bangsar): 4/10
Will I go back again : Maybe if kaijus destroyed the Klang Valley and this was the only place left standing.

Address: No. 14, Jalan Telawi 4, Bangsar Baru, 59100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Opening Hours: 24-hour restaurant

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