The Gardenman KL, St Mary Place
May 3, 2021
Family recipes prepared with love and respect by a team of Malaysian friends who come from different corners of the country: From Nyonya Laksa to Sarawak Laksa, nasi lemak with a Malacca matriarch's rendang to chee cheong fun with Ipoh's red sauce, The Gardenman blossoms with honest, hearty flavours, with ingredients sourced from their original roots.
If you enjoy local classics cooked by people who genuinely grew up on this food and care profoundly about what they serve, this new restaurant with a soothing setting is well worth visiting in the city centre.
Mee Goreng (RM14.90) sounds like a predictable staple, but The Gardenman's is specially inspired by Malacca kampung-style preparations, less salty but brighter than mee mamak.
We like its mellow tang and its mild heat, fried with sambal that's aromatic with candlenut, garlic and onions. This Mee Goreng might make you nostalgic, recalling how you dug into a similar plate in some forgotten kopitiam in your hometown in the 1980s.
Nasi Lemak also receives the Malacca treatment - the gorgeously fragrant, kukus-style grains come with satisfying choices including a chicken rendang that's the recipe of Mak Chetah, the foster mother of one of The Gardenman's Malacca-born members. It's creamy and captivating, fleshy and fulfilling, heady with more than 20 ingredients, from kaffir lime to lemongrass, kunyit to lengkuas, like a favourite dish that'll make you return for second helpings at a household gathering.
The Nasi Lemak Rendang Mak Chetah (RM18.90) is complemented by Nyonya acar that takes more than a day to laboriously prepare, with crisp, lively cucumbers, long beans, carrot and cabbage, tasting totally homemade. We'd happily bring back this acar in a huge jar if we could.
The Gardenman's Wenho, who heads the service team, comes from Kuching - he brings his favourite here, the Sarawak Laksa (RM15.90).
The broth boasts the best-quality paste Wenho could find, costly but with richer spices, balanced with shrimp and fish to yield fuller, more complex aromatics. Again, this turns out to be our best bet for Sarawak laksa in KL's city centre, potentially ranking in the top five for the entire Klang Valley.
For Chee Cheong Fun, The Gardenman gets its rice noodles from Ipoh for a slickly thin and smoothly fine variety that's extremely enjoyable for fans of silky CCF, sprinkled with sesame seeds and dried shrimp.
Have it Ipoh-style with the northern city's distinctive sweet red sauce; alternatively, the central region's brown sauce or a Malay-style curry are available (RM6.90).
For the ultimate CCF, order The Gardenman’s Chee Cheong Fun (RM15.90), a large portion with chicken spring rolls and fish cakes. Even those of us who aren't usually CCF fans can find ourselves relishing this.
While most of The Gardenman's top temptations are Malaysian, its international offerings are also thoughtfully conceived. Its Thai tom yam and Vietnamese pho, for example, were introduced by a team member who formerly often travelled to Thailand and Vietnam for work.
Pastas also merit a mention. The Spaghetti with Gardenman Green Salmon (RM34.90) looks like a pesto preparation, but it's a spinach-based sauce blended with bok choy and kailan, with no basil. It's a well-executed, wholesome vegetable sauce that enhances the pasta in a way that's true to the restaurant's name; the salmon too is excellent, clean-tasting and chunky, tender to the chew.
House-made tong sui to wrap up The Gardenman experience? Save space for the Bubur Cha Cha, a final Malacca-inspired rendition with potent tropical hints of banana (RM8.90), and the mom-endorsed Sweet Potato in Ginger Soup, with three types of ginger, including the sharper Bentong ginger, each terrifically tempering one another (RM7.90).
Many thanks to The Gardenman for having us here.
The Gardenman KL
A-0-8, St Mary Place, 1, Jalan Tengah, 50450 Kuala Lumpur.
Open Monday-Friday, 10am-7pm; Saturday, 10am-3pm. Will open for breakfast and dinner in stages.