Joloko @ Chow Kit

July 15, 2018

KL's new Caribbean queen promises cooking that's beguilingly diverse, a melting pot of West Indies island cuisine with influences that stretch through Africa and Arabia, spanning goat curry to guava-glazed prawn tostadas, jerk chicken to plantain dumpling soup to broccoli with banana vinegar, represented on one thoroughly tempting menu.

The venue's show-runners seem equally eclectic: Dutchman Rick Joore spearheads the bar and is mad about mezcal, American Tim Jay steers the kitchen after stints that took him from the Midwest to the Middle East, and Malaysian Shin Chang boasts the architectural prowess that helped transform this decades-old Chow Kit heritage home into a tropical-themed triumph to match his work at Petaling Street's Chocha Foodstore. Look for the mellow-yellow, tree-obscured facade.

Many of the menu's highlights were not ready for the limelight when we visited (expect grilled goat ribs and house-fermented fruit wines sometime soon), but there's enough for a complete meal of distinctive dishes that stand out in KL's culinary landscape: Start with the ropa de vieja, Joloko's take on one of Cuba's most popular staples, a hearty heap of pulled stewed beef that meat devotees can really go to town with, served with tacos for a mighty munch (RM55). Looking westward, Mexico is spoken for by the barracuda Veracruz, the fish dressed up exuberantly with tomatoes, capers and olives (RM75).

While African fare deserves an entire establishment of its own, it's nice to see a contemporary restaurant that strives to bring a bit of the continent to KL, with chunky bone-in lamb steak in a mild peanut sauce (RM120 for 400 grams) and a rendition of the jollof rice that's rife from Senegal to Sierra Leone (RM20) - Joloko's jollof is rich and flavoursome with tomatoes, though it's more stinging in its spiciness than expected, a nod perhaps to the Bhut jolokia peppers that Joloko is cultivating (the restaurant plans to rely on vegetables - eggplant, snake beans and more - harvested in its co-founder's own local farm).

For snacking, order a side of flatbread with intriguing dips - the goat's curd with cucumber and mint is pretty perky (RM15), while the walnut hummus with pomegranate molasses is both textured and tasty, nutty and nectarous (RM20). A slice of chilli cheesecake (RM20) ensures that customers feel the burn till the luscious end.

While a list of over a dozen tequilas kicks off Joloko's liquor selection, mezcal is the true headliner, with nearly 20 varietals to choose from, making this the ideal venue in KL to deepen your appreciation of agave. And of course, plenty of attention is paid to the cocktails - dip in with the Voodoo Old Fashioned (RM44; dark rum, mezcal, pecan nut liqueur, oloroso sherry, chocolate bitters, spice dust), then dive further with the Margarita-ish (RM38; Tequila Ocho, gin, orange curacao, green chilli liqueur, lime, Himalayan salt), Dark and Stormy (RM34; spiced rum, fermented pineapple and ginger beer, calamansi, blackstrap molasses) and Caffe No Se (RM38; mezcal, Fair Cafe liqueur, burnt orange, espresso).

Bonus trivia: Ask Rick what Joloko means, and he'll explain that they simply liked the sound of the name. So do we.

43, Jalan Kamunting, Chow Kit, 50300 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Currently open for dinner, except Mondays. 

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