Geographer Cafe Kuala Lumpur

March 9, 2018

By Aiman Azri

Geographer Cafe knows the map to our hearts and stomachs. Flip through its guestbook and you'll find that this venue's appeal transcends borders: Fernand from Luxembourg praises the interior for being "very inviting, very charming." Richard from New Zealand called the food "outstanding," while Lisa of the United States described the nasi goreng as being especially "excellent." Tom, Ben and Mel of London proclaimed that Geographer was "bang on ... a quality way to spend our last night in KL."

This restaurant might be popular among backpackers and bankers in the surroundings of Chinatown, but ironically, it remains something of a well-kept secret among locals. A spin-off from Malacca's Geographer Cafe on Jonker Street, this KL chapter is similarly housed in a shop-house whose history stretches back to before the World Wars, sandwiched amid a heritage-rich community of tailors and traders, goldsmiths and guesthouses, money-changers and photocopy shops.

It's a beautifully refurbished setting that's clearly a labour of love; on the street level, centuries-old navigational charts line the brick wall. Upstairs, a black-and-white mural of the world, sketched out by Malaysian artists, fills the scene. Fernand was absolutely correct.

Much of this menu was conceived exclusively for Geographer KL by resident chef Suren Krishnan and his team, successfully blending local ingredients and inspirations with international flair.

Intriguing Southeast Asian-inflected snacks to start with include the vegetarian Tempeh 'Meatballs,' a textured treat that's nicely complemented by roasted tomato sauce (RM15), the Hu Peow Th'ng, a Straits Peranakan clear soup with fish maw, lotus root and shiitake mushrooms (RM15), and the Plantain Chips, crunchy finger food to dip into a delicious tartar sauce infused with bunga kantan (RM10). All fresh-tasting, with clean, well-balanced nuances that let each component shine through in interesting ways.

Don't skip the salads, which serve up some imaginatively executed Malaysian-born twists. 

The Burned Caesar foregoes the typical sauce for a Malaccan belacan dressing with umami subtleties that ravishingly buoy the crisp greens (RM18), while the Kerabu Salad brings a bit of Kelantan to KL, courtesy of a light budu sauce showered over the sparkling ensemble of local herbs, luscious cured fish, pickled veggies, salted egg and squid ink keropok (RM18).

Any contemporary restaurant that infuses both belacan and budu into its repertoire is a place to bookmark.

Seafood comes in many shapes and forms at Geographer, plucked out of our local waters: From Sabah, there's meaty-crisp soft shell crab to complete a fried rice platter that's a total egg-xtravaganza, laden with morsels of salted egg yolk within and topped with a runny fried egg above (RM28), while from Pantai Remis in Perak, tiger prawns bolster a big bounty of barramundi and squid, golden-fried in a homage to Peruvian jalea, brightened up with sweet-onion salsa criolla laced with crab meat, perfect for sharing (RM48).

Geographer is MSG-free; the open kitchen labours painstakingly to ensure that its flavours remain honest and nonetheless resonant, illustrated by the Barramundi in a Parcel (RM25), relying on the fillet of a fish caught in the South China Sea, wrapped up with bean sprouts, spring onions and cherry tomatoes in a potently tangy tamarind broth, for a bundle of wholesomeness in every spoonful. The triumph of this recipe is that it tastes traditional and time-honoured, making plenty of sense to the Malaysian palate.

Casual customers can also choose from cheerful, crowd-pleasing all-day-brunch fare. The BIC "British India Company" Breakfast is a big breakfast with a surprise, substituting run-of-the-mill sausages and hash browns with South Asian-style, house-made chicken kebabs and potato bhajia instead, rounded out with solid produce of sunny-side-up eggs, organic tomato, shimeji mushrooms, spiced baked beans and sourdough bread (RM28). Looking slightly more westward, the Turkish Brekkie is basically baked eggs with roasted tomato sauce and gratinated parmesan, partnered with chickpea hummus - decent, but not the delight of Geographer (RM25).

For refreshments, many backpackers might head here for beer (Liam and Nia from Wales say they enjoyed their pint and had a sweet time), but it's also worth exploring Geographer's mocktails, with Oriental and colonial-era Indian influences reigning over the ultra-refreshing Chinatown Punch (RM14; with monk fruit, dried longan, chrysanthemum flower and lychee) and the Bombay Earl (RM 12; with a cool mix of Earl Grey tea, mint and lemon, shaken with ice).

House wines hail from France and Spain, going for RM22 per glass. Intimate live music performances are a highlight on selected nights - check out the Tuesday Bossa Nova Club, for example.

Many thanks to Geographer Cafe for having us.

Geographer Café Kuala Lumpur
93, Jalan Tun H.S. Lee, Kuala Lumpur. 
Open Mon-Thurs, 11am-11pm; Fri, 11am-12am; Sat, 10am-12am; Sun, 10am-10pm. Tel: 03-2022-2193

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