The Naked Charm of Bangsar

It was about 20 years ago, a place where all the cool peeps would go to like Big Willy’s, Dinty’s, Modesto’s, Finnegan’s, Alexis Bistro, White Rajah, Echo Bar & Dance Club, just to name a few. Interestingly, back then, Bangsar was the Changkat today where it was “the” place for the best of happy hours and catch ups. That however sort of dove into the sunset due to the frequent social troubles. Who knew Bangsar would have made a comeback within the last decade, with the refurbished malls alongside the new haunts popping up again like its heyday.

Enter the new heyday where Bangsar is once again gyrating with peeps again. Instead of the pubs and clubs of yesterday, this exciting address is lined with restaurants, boutiques, cafes and long standing businesses that survived the exodus. The renewed Bangsar is today the mecca of good food, great people and savoring breakfasts and brunches that are quickly inheriting itself a new label as the Brunch Central of Kuala Lumpur.

From the traditional Roti Canai and Nasi Lemak, enter now the western and more chicly inspired morning good food. And for this very new gastro-adventure, you’d not want to miss the all black Antipodean, which incidentally happens to be among my long time favourites.

antipodeon outside
Kick-start your day with a hearty breakfast at Antipodean.
The food quality has been consistent throughout my number of visits. Definitely saying YES to this again!

Meet Alun Evans, the brainchild behind Antipodean. For him, this whole endeavour together with a coffee business known as Merdeka Coffee had actually started in Kemang, Jakarta. His was an idea to provide a comfortable place to have breakfast, specifically western as he’s originally from New Zealand.

ANTI edit 2
Alun Evans, founder of Antipodean.

“Antipodean should feel like cafes in Sydney, Melbourne or Wellington,” explained the founder.

What sets this restaurant apart from the rest was the idea of having a good hearty breakfast to kick start the day and accompanied by the “cosy kiwi hospitality”, three words that describe the Antipodean’s attitude.

Alun highlighted that Kemang in Jakarta is very similar to Bangsar; it’s constantly progressing from time to time as there’s always a lot going on. He also understood that the key to sustaining a good business is by helping and supporting each other to grow.

“Whenever La Bodega runs out of mushrooms, we help to supply them some of ours,” the Kiwi disclosed about the community spirit with his neighbour along Jalan Telawi 2.

If camaraderie is second nature at Telawi 2, right across at Jalan Telawi 3 is where you’ll find Nosh, a quaint and alluring dessert house, sitting right along where the epicentre of Bangsar’s glorious past used to be.

Time for some NOSH-ing!
nosh food
The scrumptious, melt-in-your-mouth, sinful and tongue-tantalizing… Varlhona Heaven!

Its signature, the Varlhona Heaven at Nosh is a serious contender for a Michelin grading. What’s interesting about this dessert sanctuary is that owner Judith Sakata is a creative dessert connoisseur who specialises in plated desserts – she hand makes almost every single thing from the decorations to ice creams, mousses, sauces and sponge cakes. To say the least, I was already intrigued by its concept from its reputation way before I asked the lady herself, what defines Nosh?

Judith Sakata, founder of NOSH.

“Well, it has got to be awesome gourmet dessert. It’s all about the concept of an art on a plate without the fine dining price,” Sakata confessed with a smile.

According to her, Damansara and Mont Kiara were among the nominees before setting foot here. “There’s a kind of energy in Bangsar, it’s always changing and evolving. Each outlet retains its identity. You personalise your own outlet as compared to a mall.”

It’s business after all

My conversations with Evans and Sakata revealed some really fascinating tales common to newly established enterprises. The peaks, valleys and the challenging times are authentic recipes for what made them household names today, well at least in Bangsar. But believing in their dreams and passion may only just be the beginning, mastering an F&B enterprise certainly requires a savvy mind to numbers, size and of course business sense.

And business sense in this case dictates that while the common outlet here is spread over about 1,800 sq ft, every business will have to contend with a rental of RM8,000 to RM16,000 per month depending on the exact site location. Due to Bangsar’s charm, some are even twice these values. It sure made me wonder how many coffees and brunches will they have to sell to cover just the rental, not forgetting the renovation and talent costs etc. Regardless, the daunting numbers aren’t going, or in fact never have stopped new cafes and businesses to invest here. Because of its unique demographics, people frequent Bangsar all seasons for a variety of reasons and needs, and this ranges from grooming classes to boutique jewelries and even cars and properties.

Dr.Inc’s counter along with Nala products designed by Lisette Scheers.

To many, Bangsar feels relatable; every shop fits someone in the crowd and everywhere here is just about walking distance, well almost, which brings to mind Dr.Inc (pronounced as drink), an up-and-coming café at Bangsar Utama, just a few steps away from the Fierce Curry House and once Malaysia Kini’s headquarters.

A Bangsar kid for 30 years, Jeremy Chin the founder is very proud of his community. “What I’ve always wanted was a neighbourhood coffee shop where a real Bangsar owner can relate to his Bangsar residents, and I’m glad I did,” said the easy-going Jeremy.

Jeremy Chin, founder of Dr.Inc Cafe.

His idea was to basically utilise whatever there was already in the same premises at Lisette Scheers’ office for her Nala business. He thought it’d be a great idea to up the walking traffic of the neighbourhood by having a café. As the idea crystallises, he stripped down the walls and kept the interior naked – nothing was added to it with only a touch of nature at the entrance for a hint of the eco-conscious greenery concept.

Inside, the naked ambition does in fact blend well with the “precious leftovers”, giving it a very experimental feeling not unlike a start-up venture. The aroma of the coffee is also unmistakable, one which Jeremy would proudly credit to the prowess of the Italian roast.

“Because it’s strong. We focus more on the content rather than the appearance. More to the taste than the latte art. And of course value for money because we serve double shot, twice the better.”

When asked how he copes with his competitors, “Well, most cafes are very competitive but I would say, I see them as friends. If I get copied, I’ll be happy myself!”

What’s interesting in this very endearing locality has indeed evolved to be even better than before. It’s progressively exciting and constantly emerging – with a new vibe, a new colour and a new place. If the revival of this episode of Bangsar is anything to go by, the story may yet continue with more influence and affluence. But, if we were to uncover the secret DNA required to survive in this trendy forest, we may have to borrow a word from the dessert queen of Judith herself. ◆

It’s tougher to be different because everyone is so good with what they do and some are doing slightly different from others. But at the end of the day, it’s how you stand out.