The Attic Bar, Chinatown

October 20, 2019

Perched on the rooftop of a Chinatown backpackers' hostel, The Attic Bar is as much a cultural melting pot as a cocktail parlour, where wanderers from across the globe meet kindred-spirit Malaysians while savouring Italian pleasures and sipping imaginatively conceived potions.

The atmospheric bar is the brainchild of Malaysian founder Mun, who transformed this decades-old shop-lot into the Travel Hub Guesthouse, a vibrant communal space that has welcomed thousands of voyagers in recent years. The bar is meant to complement the hostel; a glimpse at The Attic's TripAdvisor page reveals glowing reviews by tourists from London to Istanbul to Phnom Penh.

What's a well-kept secret, however, is that the bar also houses a full-fledged Italian kitchen with a menu crafted by two Italian brothers who live in KL. On a breezy evening, The Attic Bar's alfresco terrace is a lovely vantage point for dining and wining, surrounded by downtown KL's distinctive skyline, while its time-worn interior bursts with the evocative charm and character of the city's historical heart.

For those of us constantly searching for worthwhile Italian eateries in KL, The Attic Bar fits that description, thanks to chef Emil Sassolini and his brother Simone, who also run the popular Luretta D.O.P. Italian Deli in 1 Utama. Fans of the Sassolini siblings' work have long recognised their passion for their homeland's produce, spanning classic cuisine to cheeses and wine, well-represented at The Attic Bar.

The brothers have collaborated with Mun on a selection that's available every Tuesday through Sunday evening, showcasing the essentials for a leisurely dinner. Start with the arancini stuffed cheese or rice balls, served irresistibly fresh and steaming-hot, crisp to the  bite and creamy to the chew - the Mozzarella in Carrozza oozes richly stretchy melted cheese within its breaded crust (RM18), the Truffle Arancini is tinged unmistakably with truffles for aromatic allure (RM18), and the Saffron Arancini is the punchiest of them all, packing a robust blend of saffron, blue cheese and green peas (RM16). We can't choose our favourite, so it's best to order all three platters and indulge.

Growing up in Emilia-Romagna, chef Emil's parents ran a restaurant where he was raised whipping up pastas and even preparing his first pizza at the age of six - so it's no surprise that both staples are should-tries at The Attic Bar.

Spaghetti Green Days offers a memorable rendition of pesto with the secret weapon of sage, its deeply herbaceous notes speaking of lush gardens and their harvest, tossed in a thick basil sauce with green beans galore, a mix of pine and cashew nuts for a buoyant earthiness, parmesan and oregano (RM26). Meanwhile, the Spaghetti Puttanesca lives up to its reputation as one of Italy's sultriest, most sensual pastas, slickly saturated in a soulfully spiced tomato sauce with savoury capers and black olives (RM26).

Thick-crust pizza triumphs include the Margherita for You, channelling the can't-beat combo of tomato and mozzarella (RM11), and the more decadent Truffle Ecstasy, loaded with parmesan, arugula, and of course, the tell-tale fragrance of true-blue Italian truffles (RM18). The Lasagna with slow-cooked beef bolognese sauce also comes highly recommended - something to try on our next visit.

Whenever we see Veal Milanese on the menu, we make sure to order it - The Attic Bar's interpretation does justice to the boneless, thin-and-crisp cotoletta of Calvairate (RM32). For another authentic taste of northern Italy, try the Cheese Platter, with varieties from the Lombardy region's Valtellina valley, including piattone, matusc and latteria, aged for elegance, a notable change from the cliched cheese platters at many other restaurants (RM38).

The kitchen's repertoire is extensive, so there's plenty more to sample, from Abruzzo-style chicken and lamb skewers marinated in everything from paprika to parsley, plus desserts like Tiramisu Semifreddo (which we presume would be a cooling twist on the typical tiramisu).

A feast like this demands Italian wines - Luretta even carries its own label, the yield of a vineyard that has endured for half a century in Emilia-Romagna's Luretta valley. Exceptionally fair-priced choices by both the bottle and the glass include the Castel Vento Cabernet Sauvignon, smooth and silken with notes of black and blueberries (bottle RM108, glass RM25); there are many other enticing possibilities to explore as you linger over a long night at The Attic Bar or return for multiple visits.

While the cooking is completely satisfying, the cocktails are also shining stars in their own right, with the mixologists deserving as much attention as the chefs. Over the years, The Attic Bar has boasted both local and international bartenders, infusing flavours from home and abroad into some pretty creative concoctions that make for excellent aperitifs, nightcaps or even for relishing on their own.

Our favourite cocktails here are the ones with inspirations from Malaysia and across Asia - the Passionate Tuak brings together artisan-crafted rice wine from Borneo with passion fruit, a harmoniously mellow blend with fermented-fruity subtleties that make for sweet-and-easy drinking, pegged with baby's-breath for playful visual appeal (RM34).

Influences span the Far East to India - the Qing Long Green Dragon is also a photogenic tropical beauty, dressed with fresh orchids, jazzed up with dragon artwork on its surface; it tastes as terrific as it looks, enlivened with green tea, yuzu, peppermint liqueur, and apple and lime juice (RM32), while the Masala Tea is supremely soothing comfort in the form of rum-infused tea with cinnamon, infused vodka, milk and star anise (RM30).

Cocktail enthusiasts will also enjoy the nostalgia-evoking, young-at-heart delights of the Masam Manis (RM36; spotlighting gin infused with the quintessentially Southeast Asian limau purut) and the Guinness Tarik (RM39; an adult take on teh tarik, with Guinness, rum, milk, nutmeg and whipped cream).

There are numerous other house specials beckoning here; many of the top cocktails are classified in base categories of whisky, rum, gin and vodka, with other ingredients like red peppers and dried chillies to spice up the selection.

If you're suffering from Game of Thrones withdrawal pangs, The Attic Bar also promises several cocktails dedicated to devotees of the show - relive the fantasy-fuelled passion and pain over the Tyrion Lannister Shot (RM35; Jack Daniels with elderflower), Jon Snow (RM35; Kahlua, Baileys, cinnamon-infused vodka and whipped cream) and Dragon Lady (RM38; vodka with fresh dragon fruit, passion fruit, lime and egg white, garnished with dragon balls and orchids), assembled with theatrics and flair.

All in all, The Attic Bar is an experience that rewards the adventurous; even the journey up to this bar is intriguing - follow the lanterns up the spiral staircase. Many thanks to The Attic Bar for having us here.

The Attic Bar

Third Floor, Travel Hub Guesthouse, No. 15, Jalan Balai Polis, Kuala Lumpur. Open Mon-Fri, 6pm-1am; Sat-Sun, 6pm-2am. Tel: 012-393-8267

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