Southeast Asia, served on a plate
The smartest eateries in Kuala Lumpur tend to favour cuisine from Europe or Japan but that convention has changed with Isabel Restaurant & Bar. Set in a 1950s house just off busy Changkat Bukit Bintang, the ambience is the result of a refurbished chic neo-colonial style radiating effortless elegance. On its menu, Isabel serves up dishes Southeast Asian food made from ingredients sourced locally and beyond. which are as authentic as they are delicious.
Food is shared family style so the dinner menu comprises small and big plates which can be mixed and matched according to the group’s size or appetites. While more commonly found dishes like Hor Mok (creamily flavour packed parcels of Steamed Thai style curry custard with seafood) and Mango Kerabu (crisp raw young mango tossed in aromatics) are perfect for the less adventurous, it would be a great pity not to try Isabel’s more unusual small plates which take you on a journey of lesser known regional produce. The Vietnamese Young Jackfruit Salad particularly is a sophisticated composition of contrasting textures and bright flavours and it’s hard not to be beguiled by the Indonesian Urap Pucuk Manis Salad which will convert the staunchest vegetable atheist with its wonderful balance of lightly blanched sweet leaf, torch ginger flower and beansprouts dressed with roasted coconut, peanut sambal and fried shallots.
Isabel takes pride in preparing all the spices and pastes from scratch which is evident in their curries. The compulsively tasty crab curry is a must order – especially when the blue swimmer crab has already been shelled beforehand so that all you need to do is savour each aromatic bite. Also of note is the Vietnamese Style Roasted Short Ribs which have been cooked sous vide to ensure maximum tenderness and glazed with an appetising sauce of tamarind and lemongrass. Desserts are not an afterthought here and the kitchen elevate the humblest of ingredients via refined techniques and exquisite plating, like the ambrosial ciku ice cream made from scratch.
An extensive wine list and a concise range of signature cocktails inspire confidence. One could have a pleasant evening beneath the lazily rotating fans, knocking back creations like the Hey Yoko, a sake vodka cocktail infused with a subtle Shiso flavour courtesy of the leaf just plucked from the restaurant’s own edible garden, and sweetened with an in-house syrup of red dates and longans.