Beta KL Revisited
Words: Han Sen Hau
Photos: Monica Tindall
Most Malaysians would rarely associate their local fare with haute cuisine, which seems ironic and somewhat of a missed opportunity considering the rich culinary heritage and diverse raw ingredients littering the nation. It is amazing how so much can be contained in one small country, and yet no one seems to be waxing lyrical about the abundance of flavours that can be plucked and experimented with from their backyards.
Perhaps this is why Beta KL truly shines among a sea of restaurants slapping fine dining on their menus. With a solid focus on accentuating local ingredients, Beta KL draws upon the familiar to conjure the whimsical, forcing us to face our own prejudices towards homegrown food. No foie gras? No problem. Instead, we get Mempelam Telur and Tongkol. Sounds exotic enough.
As a matter of fact, that exoticism is magnified the minute you walk past their lush entrance and neon signage to be welcomed by the restaurant’s maximalist decor. The riot of colours would be the first thing you notice as you walk past their prismatic bar that’s bedecked in emerald tiles and enveloping a crimson wine cabinet. It’s a beautiful mess, a shrine to maximalism, and a fitting prelude to the extensive Tour of Malaysia (RM420 per pax) menu that awaited us.
Beta KL Revisited
The Welcome Drink
As part of the experience, we signed up for the four-glass cocktail pairing (RM168), which started with an unprepossessing yet potent Tropikambola. The star of the show is the Malaysian star fruit, or carambola, and its unique savoury-yet-sweet profile instantly awakens the senses, preparing the palate for what’s to come. Cocktail sommelier Sham explains that the concoction was inspired by the star fruit plantations in Johor and Pahang, and we greatly adored this aperitif for jolting us up in our seats.
A Tiny and Terrific Trio
Some of the best things come in the tiniest bites, for they leave you wanting more. This was definitely true of the initial three amuse-bouche that tickled the tongue following the electrifying Tropikambola.
First off is the gooey Scallop, which had a lovely nose from the local ferns and habanero massaged into the mollusc. The final product had the appeal of savoury “ang ku kueh”, or red tortoise cake, though far more complex and infinitely interesting.
Next up is the Mempelam Telur, which is the name of the local mango carved into a star crowning the chicken heart and crispy potato nest. The mango’s floral bouquet paired exceptionally well with the savoury chicken heart, while the different textures across all three ingredients made this exceedingly addictive.
Still, it was the deceptively simple Baby Corn that stole the limelight with its crunch and fragrance. Wrapped in chewy Lempeng, a type of local pancake, the lightly grilled Baby Corn was an effective transition from gentle flavours to a heavier quartet.
The Quintessential Quartet
Things started to get a little more playful in the second phase of our culinary tour, which arrived in a bean tray. Tackling it clockwise from the top right, we started with the Tropical Caviar that looked dashing with its curry leaf hat. The caviar used was locally sourced from Tanjung Malim, though it was the Tongkol fish cutlet at the bottom that enraptured us with its delightfully piquant profile, many thanks to the generous Indian spice used.
The subsequent icy Pineapple granita was a complete antithesis to the familiar warmth of the Tropical Caviar. Prepared on top of delicate puff pastry, the granita immediately eliminated all traces of spice from the former bite-sized morsel, and the experience was akin to enjoying a plate of yee sang, the raw fish salad that’s hard to miss during Chinese New Year, albeit without the raw fish or the salad. The small peanut pieces and aromatic litsea tossed into the mix ultimately made this one of the more fascinating dishes of the evening that worked unusually well.
Moving along, we had a dainty cut of fresh Cuttlefish that kind of served as a palate reset after the granita and before the amusingly named 0.00% Yeast appetiser. Looking exactly like any ordinary bun you’d find at a bakery, this delightful basket of tapioca pom-poms is 100% gluten-free and a homage to wartime rations. A design that is stunning in both its simplicity and constructs, the tapioca bread is sweet, savoury, a little chewy, and eye-rollingly delicious with the accompanying green chilli paste. The paste itself isn’t too spicy that it burns the tongue; rather, it adds another layer of complexity to an already perfect piece of pastry.
Accompanying the quartet is a creamy Paddy Terroir, which is a nod to the rice fields of Kedah. A lighter concoction than the preceding Tropikambola, the Paddy Terroir seduces with a heady osmanthus fragrance and coconut-y Malibu. A hit of lime balances the otherwise drowsy tipple, much like how a straightforward barley drink is made extra enticing with a slice of calamansi dropped into the glass.
As we progressed through the third dinner phase, we dove into a more experimental approach to local cuisine.
Guava kicked off this segment with, you guessed it, lots of guava served three ways: lacto-fermented, freshly sliced, and clarified guava broth. Served with fermented Strip Jack, Guava was one of the more unusual dishes we didn’t know we needed. Instead of pummelling us with heavy flavours dish after dish throughout the night, the team at Beta KL clearly predicted the need to slip in the unusual flavour of the month every so often like this to, possibly, stabilise our tummies for actual, heavier fare. The result of such a process had the effect of forcing us to stop for a moment, chew a little longer, and play with the food on the table, ultimately transforming what would have been a languid three-hour journey into a fun ride filled with “oh hey, what’s this in my mouth?”
Hot on Guava’s tail is an intensely fragrant Prawn & Shells, a deconstruction of the popular Penang Hokkien Mee, or Prawn Noodles. The prawn roulade at the base spill out like Haw Gow dumplings once the sweet and spicy bisque is poured into the plate, and the cured egg yolk at the top of the crunchy lattice introduces a burst of umami with every bite. We’re glad that Beta has taken this approach to elevating Prawn Noodles without using noodles, considering the amount of food one would have to go through with Tour of Malaysia.
Lastly, we have the Sarawakian Lawas Rice that comes with its own sambal and aubergine side dish. Essentially, this is rice and ulam, but the beauty lies in each herb and vegetable that the Beta team has carefully placed on the plate. The idea is to have a bite with everything mixed in it, including the aubergine crowned with ikan masin, or salted fish, and the amazing thing is that you’re still able to discern each fragrant component distinctively, from the long beans to the Vietnamese coriander and the kantan flower.
The cocktail that came with this set was the sweet and spicy Ginger of Bentong, no points for guessing that the inspiration for this came from the hills of Pahang. Despite the hit of vodka at the entry, much of it was overwhelmed by the herbal sarsaparilla and the ginger top notes that coat the upper palate. This one disappeared fast, being one of the lighter cocktails.
This is it. We’ve arrived. It is now time to talk about the mains.
Phew. What a journey.
There are two standard options that come with the Tour of Malaysia price tag: the Cornfed Chicken and the Lamb Rack. For an additional RM220, visitors can order the Miyazaki Wagyu Beef A5 instead.
The Cornfed Chicken is Beta’s interpretation of the Hakka staple Yellow Wine Chicken, but instead of preparing it as a stew, the team whipped up a kampung chicken meatloaf. Paired with lightly sautéed luffa gourd, deep-fried chicken crumbs, and yellow wine reduction, the meatloaf was firm to the bite and evoked a familiar homely warmth.
Cocktail sommelier Sham selected the Haru Manis, named after the sweet mango varietal produced only in the northern state of Perlis, to go with the chicken. The cocktail was bewitching with a domineering whisky entry before transitioning into the signature Haru Manis sweetness, then ending with a fragrant chrysanthemum finish. The fruity combo was exquisitely refreshing, and the danger lay in the concealed alcoholic relish, which leaves you pining for a second mug.
The alternative Lamb Rack features goji marinated New Zealand ribs served medium rare, a longan reduction, “black garlic” buah keluak purée, and a coconut-and-yam log. While the lamb dazzled on its own, the marriage of the longan reduction and the coconut-and-yam log was the true highlight of the dish, and we would happily lap up the sauce with the log all the way through dessert.
The final cocktail pairing of the night to go with the Lamb Rack was the Asia Fashioned, Sham’s sweeter interpretation of the Old Fashioned using longan-infused Wild Turkey, a rum keluak mix, and Gula Melaka soy sauce to bind all the flavours. Here’s a neat little trivia about the cocktail: the large, single ice cube in the glass was hand-sawn by Sham herself!
As a reward for completing the Tour of Malaysia, we were presented with two nostalgic sweet courses to conclude our time at Beta.
The first was Mum’s Supper, which appealed as an amalgamation of classic tong sui desserts popular among the Chinese. The longan and red jujube ice cream rests atop a spoonful of Sarawakian dabai crumbs and a longan jelly base. You would think the dessert is complete with just those elements, but the Beta team went one step further by adding a sweet and spicy ginger broth to the mix. The result is a complex treat of different flavours and textures, like a postmodern bubur cha-cha.
The second was a beautifully crafted Loyang Vol 2 made using traditional honeycomb cookie moulds. Fried with liquid nitrogen, the cool kuih is made primarily of pandan and coated in coconut and white chocolate shavings. Loyang Vol 2 truly shines in its illusion that it looks like a traditional, crunchy honeycomb cookie, but tastes like onde-onde ice cream.
Final Thoughts – Beta KL Revisited
While there’s nothing new about elevating local fare to tickle the haute beau monde of Kuala Lumpur, few establishments could claim to do so at a scale equal to Beta KL, whose team’s playful ambition spawns familiar flavours in unfamiliar forms. More importantly, the stimulus for such creativity stems from a humble and respectful place: have you seen the amount of italicisation used in this article simply to denote local ingredients?
At Beta KL, you don’t just get a sense of the new without a nod to the old. The 0.00% Yeast was a perfect example of that. It takes a truly dedicated team to transform a simple root vegetable that was a symbol of famine and austerity in the country into a work of art, so if that doesn’t warrant a visit, then we certainly can’t explain our impulse to take home an extra serving of piping hot tapioca buns.
Many thanks to Sean, Kar Hoe, Austin, and Sham for being such good hosts and for meticulously explaining the origins of each ingredient used in every dish. We couldn’t have listed every element in this review without making it look like a bloated dossier, but we would like to think we’ve teased just enough for you to take on your own Tour of Malaysia.
Reasons to visit: Explore the myriad of uncommon Malaysian ingredients in a single location; rotating menu that changes roughly every four months; you’re essentially getting an education on the rich edible resources in Malaysia with a Beta KL flair; well-balanced cocktails that do a very good job of highlighting local ingredients.
Beta KL Revisited
No. 20, Jalan Perak, 50450 Kuala Lumpur
The review above has been of Beta KL’s Tour of Malaysia Season 3/2022.
All cocktails listed above are priced at RM45 individually.
3-glass cocktail pairing: RM128
4-glass cocktail pairing: RM168
6:00 pm – 10:00 pm (Tuesday – Sunday); 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm (Friday, Saturday)
Check out other contemporary restaurants in KL here and stay up to date with the latest food and beverage happenings in KL here and here.