Loo Loo Casual Dining, Sri Hartamas

August 13, 2020

Rib eye steaks that cost south of RM50; lamb leg for under RM40; tiger prawn bisque pasta that's less than RM30; a beautiful honey-themed sponge dessert for below RM20 - Loo Loo Casual Dining lives up to a promise of serving delightfully distinctive creations by a chef who's returning to Malaysia after nearly a decade of working in modern European restaurants in Singapore, Bali and Manila.

Loo Loo's food takes inspiration from the meticulous, intricate efforts that fuel fine dining - but without the skyrocketing prices that propel top-flight restaurants. Head chef William and his co-founder Nicole (both share the surname Loo) harness the full potential of everyday ingredients in imaginative ways to make this one of 2020's most worthwhile new restaurants.

In the past 10 years, William has trained under internationally respected chefs, including three whom he singles out for inspiring his philosophies - French chef Stephane (who has worked at New York's Daniel, among others), Italian Giuliano (who teaches his proteges how to prepare true Italian pasta without setting foot in Italy), and Canadian Kevin (whose resume includes El Bulli and Arzak in Spain). His work at Loo Loo brings his personal experiences under those chefs to full bloom.

The perfect appetite-whetter is this cold somen (RM16): Firm, thin noodles surrounded by naturally invigorating ingredients - a fresh, plumply tender prawn for gentle crustacean sweetness, tobiko and crab stick strips to bolster the flavours of the sea, buoyed by julienned cucumbers for crunch, ponzu sauce for citrusy acidity, and sesame seed oil for earthiness. A lovely interplay of lively, well-balanced wholesomeness from the waters and the land.

One of William's culinary icons is American restaurateur David Chang, so it's no surprise that Loo Loo offers its own take on the revered Momofuku's ultra-comforting steamed buns - but without pork. Multiple slices of hoisin-glazed smoked duck furnish the lusciously savoury punch in this modern, moreish Asian marvel, thickly layered with quick-pickled cucumbers, chillies, scallions and aioli for eat-it-while-it's-hot ecstasy (RM12 for two).

If you love pasta, make it a point to try Loo Loo's tiger prawn pasta (RM22), which might look pretty simple but requires two days of painstaking preparation. The secret is in the bisque-like sauce, crafted with the kitchen's own prawn essence - it takes a day to make the chicken stock that forms a full-bodied base for this sauce, then a second day to infuse the richness of prawn shells and heads for a beautiful brininess. We slurped up every strand of the durum wheat spaghetti, fully al dente, coated in the precious prawn sauce, with two large prawns to round it all out. Loo Loo might not be an Italian restaurant, but this pasta is pure pleasure, equal to that of any respected pasta purveyor in KL, reminding us to cherish eateries that eschew the bolognese/carbonara/aglio olio stereotypes.

We're a little less enthused by the charred miso butterfish, onion-infused dashi, bok choy and crispy tofu (RM32) - it's visually alluring in its arrangement, with the kitchen doing justice to every component, including the Japanese-inflected, soulful umami of the miso marinade and the sweet-savoury broth. But the butterfish itself isn't our favourite produce for both taste and texture; the chef has acknowledged that he'd like to use halibut, but that would hike the price significantly higher.

Redemption rests in Loo Loo's playful reinterpretation of the Caesar salad - crowned with sous-vide chicken breast, slow-cooked to a smooth succulence akin to thigh meat, drizzled with dragon fruit sauce, cushioned with romaine hearts turned into leafy cups for hard-boiled eggs and ikan bilis in two ways - crushed into a breadcrumb-like crispness and blended into an anchovy dressing. It's a substantial portion that even two can share for only RM22 - ideal for carb-shunning fitness enthusiasts since the crushed anchovies make this crouton-free.

Lamb lovers, try Loo Loo's shawarma-style lamb leg, marinated for a day with the aromatic ras el hanout cardamom-and-cinnamon spice mix that's popular in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, then slow-roasted for six hours, sliced and torched, robust in the unmistakable, no-holds-barred flavour of lamb. The juicy meat is served in the fashion of deconstructed kebabs, rolled amid a landscape of parsley-green breadcrumbs, oven-dried tomato sauce, onion jam, and cucumber stuffed with mint yogurt, representing a journey through North Africa and the Middle East on a single plate (RM38).

Need more red meat? Loo Loo's Australian grain-fed beef (RM46 for about 200 grams) meets the medium-rare mark for sinking your teeth into a rib eye steak with plenty of protein-packed flavour, firm to the bite and supple to the chew. Even the accompaniments aren't an afterthought - sprightly green beans, a lip-smacking spring onion aioli, and crackly skin-on potatoes that took three days to prepare, boiled and frozen on the first day, fried and dried on the second day for a pronounced crust, and fried again to order on the third day.

While William isn't a pastry chef, his desserts are definitely a delight. Loo Loo's Honey 3 Ways (RM18) is a must - fresh honey sponge cake, with gelato in honey and milk flavours, plus some toasty honeyed brown butter sauce, rounded out with Earl Grey cream, pear puree and caramelised sunflower seeds. This plate has everything, the contrasts between hot and cold, crunchy and creamy, with all the natural, nectarous nuances that you'd desire from a honey-focused dessert.

We're also in lust with the souffle (RM16), made with 70% dark chocolate, gluten-free without a pastry flour base, alluringly airy but still compelling in its deep cacao decadence. This is paired with hazelnut gelato for a coupling that evokes Ferrero Rocher chocolate-and-hazelnut treats. For souffle addicts, get your fix here.

Even the beverages are more meticulously made than typical - the limeade features melted lime juice cubes (RM8), while the hot chocolate is fragrant and fulfilling with Valrhona bittersweet dark chocolate, cocoa and gula Melaka (RM12).

All in all, Loo Loo Casual Dining is off to a very promising culinary start despite these difficult times. Thanks to these passionate founders who've fine-tuned their craft for having us here.

Loo Loo Casual Dining

B2-7, Block B, Plaza Damas 3, Jalan Sri Hartamas 1, Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur. 

Open Wednesday-Monday, 12pm-10pm. Tel: 011-2729-7311

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