KAI New Nusantara Eatery - REXKL, Chinatown KL table full of Malaysian food

KAI New Nusantara Eatery – REXKL, Chinatown KL

KAI New Nusantara Eatery – REXKL, Chinatown KL

Words: Jacob Weber
Photos: Han Sen Hau

Given KL’s incredible food culture, it’s almost not surprising that you’ll find the best Nusantara-style cuisine in the city in a little corner of Chinatown.

OK, maybe not any “little corner”. This cool new concept restaurant is on the ground floor of REXKL; as corners go, it’s a pretty popular one.

‘Nusantara’ is a Javanese term that literally means ‘outer islands’. It is typically used to refer to the Malay archipelago and all the incredible ingredients and sizzling spices found across its many, many shores.

KAI, a common regional name that also translates as ‘open’, offers its own creative interpretation of Nusantara fare that celebrates local farmers, sustainable produce, and a culinary heritage that goes a long way back in history. This talented team — from the same group as Shhhbuuuleee and Chocha Food Store — take traditional recipes and techniques and add their own modern flair to create a masterclass in authentic cuisine.

I know—”authentic” gets thrown around a lot these days when it comes to dining discussions. But believe me, KAI New Nusantara Eatery is the real deal.

KAI New Nusantara Eatery - REXKL, Chinatown KL
KAI New Nusantara Eatery – REXKL, Chinatown KL
KAI New Nusantara Eatery - REXKL, Chinatown KL
KAI New Nusantara Eatery – REXKL, Chinatown KL
Steaming Kitchen KAI New Nusantara Eatery - REXKL, Chinatown KL
Inside the Kitchen

KAI New Nusantara Eatery Menu & Prices

The menu is divided into small, medium and large plates, so we start with a few snacks to share before moving on to the main courses (which turn out to be too good not to share as well).

The Kacang Rebus (RM12) is made in the traditional Malay style with a typical KAI twist. Ground peanuts are braised in dried chillies, spices, and soy sauce until deliciously soft and chewy. It’s a very satisfying start.

Ground Nuts Kacang Rebus
Ground Nuts – Kacang Rebus

Solok Pelota (RM18) has an equally interesting texture but takes the traditional taste up a notch; the fragrant (and rather pungent) luffa gourd raises an eyebrow, and then the spiced mackerel stuffing swoops in at the end of the bite to balance things out and finish strong.

Solok Pelota - Luffa Gourd KAI New Nusantara Eatery - REXKL Menu & Prices
Solok Pelota – KAI New Nusantara Eatery KL

The Jagung Goreng (RM18) are so incredibly moreish that we have to avoid the temptation to order another few plates. “There’s much more to come,” we’re telling ourselves — but it’s tough. These fried corn ribs with urup kelapa (a spicy coconut topping) and sambal balado are just excellent. 

Corn Ribs with sauce on green table - Jagung Goreng
Jagung Goreng – Corn Ribs

And if we thought that was spicy, we’re in for a tastebud-sizzling treat next. The Kerabu Jantung Pisang (RM18) is a fascinating little dish that’s not for the faint-hearted. Pickled banana blossom, unripe banana, sambal, and toasted cashew nuts combine into a marvellous medley of spice, acidity, and contrasting textures. I keep returning to this even after other dishes arrive, treating myself to spicy spoonfuls to sharpen the senses.

Kerabu Jantung Pisang
Kerabu Jantung Pisang

Sate Lilit Tongkol (RM22) is equally interesting: local skipjack tuna, coconut flakes and spicy paste in the form of satay sticks. Without knowing it, I wouldn’t have guessed it was tuna, but it’s a happy surprise. 

Sate Lilit Tongkol
Sate Lilit Tongkol – KAI New Nusantara Eatery KL

Acar Rampai (RM12) is a useful side dish of seasonal vegetables pickled in vinegar and turmeric paste. It is tasty and crunchy, with a lingering heat, and goes well with everything.

Acar Rampai
Acar Rampai

Another excellent vegetarian-friendly dish (and KAI has plenty of them) is the Ulum Nangka (RM24), a light and fresh plate of mixed greens and jackfruit topped with local herbs and ginger flower. The jackfruit comes through nicely, giving the dish some body and sweetness against the crisp salad. 

Ulum Nangka KAI New Nusantara Eatery - REXKL, Chinatown KL
Ulum Nangka

If you like tempeh, you’ll love the Sambal Kering Suhun (RM16). It’s well-seasoned tempeh cooked to the perfect texture, served with glass noodles, peanuts, and dried chilli paste. 

Sambal Kering Suhun
Sambal Kering Suhun

The Singgang Kepah (RM32) is a sure thing for seafood lovers and is worth trying, even if clams aren’t your first choice. The tamarind broth is beautiful, with Charleston peppers and tomatoes adding some substance. The sour-and-spicy flavour really brings out the best of the fresh local clams.

Singgang Kepah KAI New Nusantara Eatery - REXKL, Chinatown KL
Singgang Kepah – KAI New Nusantara Eatery KL

KAI’s version of the classic Indonesian salad, Gado-Gado (RM26) doesn’t experiment too much with the original recipe, just elevates it with aplomb. This is a hearty, filling plate of vegetables in various satisfying textures, from the soft baked pumpkin to the crunchy fried tofu. The peanut dressing is magnificent.

Gado-Gado KAI New Nusantara Eatery - REXKL, Chinatown KL

Jackfruit makes a triumphant return to the table in the Nangka Muda Redang (RM22) — one of those dishes that’s so good that everyone falls silent for a few seconds as we dig in. Young jackfruits are braised in rendang paste to give it a texture that could easily be mistaken for a meaty base, and it’s just bursting with flavour. 

From the Sides menu, we try a Pajeri Nanas (pineapple curry) (RM8), which is so good I wish it was in the Large plates section. You get a beautiful, sharp, tangy-sweet opening from the fresh pineapple and then a lovely warmth coming through the back of the throat from the curry sauce. I make a mental note to order two of these along with some Coconut Rice (RM5) next time I’m here.

KAI New Nusantara Eatery - REXKL, Chinatown KL table full of Malaysian food
KAI New Nusantara Eatery – Pajeri Nanas, Coconut Rice & Other Sides

We’re all pretty full at this point, but I’ve spotted something on the menu, and I refuse to stop eating until I’ve tried it: the Gulai Daging (RM52), slow-cooked beef ribs. I’m stunned into silence again. These are so, so good; the big chunks of tender beef just fall apart as soon as I wave my fork in their general direction, and they’re so deliciously rich. Baby potatoes and bamboo shoots are fine accompaniments, but these ribs are the real heroes.

Gulai Daging
Gulai Daging

Finally, there’s still just enough room for one more because we reluctantly had to share the beef—the Bebek Goreng (RM42), slow-cooked duck leg with masak lemak hijau (a traditional green sauce). My notes for this dish just say, ” Mmmmmmmmm,” and I don’t really see any need to elaborate. It’s like something straight out of a Balinese warung. And if you haven’t been to Bali, just come here instead.

Bebek Goreng KAI New Nusantara Eatery - REXKL, Chinatown KL
Bebek Goreng
KAI New Nusantara Eatery Menu & Prices- REXKL, Chinatown KL
KAI New Nusantara Eatery KL Menu & Prices

Completely stuffed and thoroughly satisfied, it’s time to wander around REXKL and find something nice and alcoholic to wash this all down with ….

Reasons to visit KAI New Nusantara Eatery KL: full-flavoured regional recipes; excellent sets for sharing with small or larger groups; tasty vegetarian options; a laid-back setup in the vibrant lower courtyard of REXKL. 

KAI New Nusantara Eatery KL
80, Jalan Sultan, KL City Centre
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Link to Google Map directions to KAI
*There are several public car parks at the beginning and end of the block. Alternatively, take the MRT or LRT to Pasar Seni (Central Market).
**Halal-friendly with a pork-free menu, but you can purchase beer or wine from nearby stalls.
***Plenty of vegetarian options

KAI REXKL Operating Hours
Sunday – Thursday: 1:00 pm – 10.30 pm
Friday – Saturday: 1:00 pm – 11:30 pm
Closed Wednesday

Find more on REXKL here and stay up-to-date with the latest gourmet and travel recommendations for Malaysia on The Yum List on Facebook and The Yum List on Instagram.

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