Calia, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur
June 23, 2020
Calia first carved out its reputation in Melbourne as an upmarket restaurant and retail business, launching in the CBD's Emporium mall before branching out to the Chadstone fashion-store hub. It brings that pedigree to Pavilion KL with the brand's first international outpost, a stylish, sunshine-swept space that comes closest to a leafy patio garden within a shopping centre.
Calia Malaysia sparkles with the polished sheen of professionalism, striving to ensure a smooth experience. While waiting for a table, browse the front-of-house sales shelves for everything from sake to spoons, Merlot salt to macadamia nuts. If you purchase wine, whiskies or other liquor, you can consume these in the restaurant at their retail price, without corkage fees.
Calia's menu is not outrageously expensive; for context, it's certainly far from Pavilion's priciest restaurant. A compromise in produce quality might however be the consequence - only mildly discernible, since the kitchen is capably skilled, but if you're ordering the signature bowls, you might feel more satisfied at one of the city centre's true-blue Japanese restaurants instead.
The Chirashi (RM45) is alluringly canopied with six varieties of sustainably caught seafood. Mostly thickly cut, the sashimi is decent but not divine - the first bite of the akami is indicative of middle-of-the-road tuna, borne out by its fellow fish in the bowl, fleeting in the memory, missing the scintillating nuances for which sushi counters are celebrated.
Calia's flagship Aburi Salmon (RM43) is more distinctive, with salmon that's confidently flame-seared, each slice slick and succulent, straddling that delicate line between raw and cooked, though its sweet-savoury sauce could be slathered a little less heavily, teetering perilously close to cloying.
The Australian Full-Blood Wagyu 6+ with a 63-degree egg (RM78) yields beef with a coarser-than-expected chew, though that's no fault of Calia's culinary crew, who managed perfectly medium-rare meat with the requisite char. While portions are hearty, proportions might be problematic for some patrons - we had vinegared rice left over in each bowl because the carbs were both too much and too clumpy for the protein.
Some of this seems like quibbling, but Calia suffers from elevated expectations, with its repertoire conceived by a Chilean-born chef who spent a season at Catalonia's El Bulli and co-founded a Michelin-starred modern restaurant in Tokyo.
All in all though, Calia is still worth an hour or two if you're at Pavilion. We had a pleasant afternoon here, sipping on Hiroshima-brewed, gold-flaked Kamotsuru sake (RM157), as well as Kyoto-harvested matcha and Korean sweet potatoes infused into soothingly earthy lattes (RM15 each; possibly KL's most natural-tasting purple sweet potato latte).
Level Six, Pavilion, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Daily, 11am-10pm.
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