Top of the Pops – KL Version @ Barlai
Words by Craig J Selby
Photos by The Yum List (Monica Tindall)
On a recent hunt for great cocktails in Kuala Lumpur, I stumbled across the recently opened Barlai. A special little place, with drinks that remind me both of home, yet stretch the imagination at the same time to remind me I’m in Malaysia, I’ve chosen to call this “top of the pops – local version” because each cocktail enjoyed represented something deeply familiar and enjoyable to us, yet these five (yes, I limited myself to five – I did want to walk out of the building afterwards) each showcased something distinctively local in their preparation.
So if you are looking for a quirky hangout place for drinks with friends, or just to escape from the hustle and bustle of KL, without actually leaving the city, then Barlai is definitely the spot for you. Nestled just behind Pudu Raya – well, basically within walking distance of the intercity bus station and Changkat – Barlai is the latest venture from BIG Group – a homely, eclectic bar that represents the groups’ design and concept philosophy very well, as with their culinary / taste philosophy of stepping outside of the box.
Barlai is though, first and foremost a bar. Don’t expect food; although they do have a small bar snacks menu to munch down on as your chatting away. Do expect friendly staff, and a great ambiance in which to enjoy some liquid awesomeness!
The most simple and elegant of cocktails, one usually defines their Gin and Tonic by the gin used, and the proportion of it. Yes, the gin makes a huge difference, and we all know when we are being served the good stuff (Barlai’s choice of gin was very pleasing to the taste buds, by the way – Gordon’s), but seldom do we think how to magically transform this old-timer into something more. At Barlai, it is a lemongrass infused gin and tonic that takes centre-stage, and it’s a well-deserved position too.
In simple terms, it is a hot infused gin (gin is warmed up, lemongrass stalks are added and slowly simmered to absorb into the flavor), then re-chilled to the usual room temperature, and served to you with a splash of tonic. OK, so it was me who asked for the “splash” (I like my GNT strong), but this was oh so refreshing. The initial taste to the tongue was a tad medicinal (think old school cough syrup), but it really does grow on you, and pretty quickly.
The distinctive flavours were very pleasing to the palate, and weirdly familiar too. I guess living in this part of the world, we experience lemongrass in so many dishes – it adds a nice spice to so much Thai cuisine – yet we never think how it can work in a drink. To me, this was very thirst quenching, and definitely a hit.
Next up was the Siam Mojito. This was a delightful drink, with a distinctively fresh flavor combination. Very fresh mint was definitely used (I think it grows in the garden).
Fancy a Margarita? Then enjoy their Calamansi Margarita. Offering an extremely refreshing flavor, it differs from a typical Margarita in that it uses a sugar rim (very nice for a change). As much as I usually love the salt after-taste, this little trail of sugar helps to cut through the sourness of the calamansi. The result, a delightful aroma and taste.
Do you like Piña Colada? Before bursting into song (I have the 70’s classic jangling in my head now), this version won’t necessarily bring cheating partners back together, but it will console you and cheer you up regardless of mood. Barlai’s point of difference; the use of pandan syrup. With the coconut creaminess coming from the Malibu, it initially gives you the feeling of a usual piña colada; until slowly the taste builds up, just like layers, sip after sip. In the end, the pandan flavor is somewhat more prominent than at that first mouthful.
My personal favourite though was the Lychee Martini – with ginger. A beautifully subtle lychee martini, the type that you can enjoy any early evening, with the added twist of young ginger to lift the flavour levels. The bar uses young ginger; it gives a great sharp flavour to the mix, but unlike aged ginger, it doesn’t add the spiciness.
They serve a pretty decent house pour of wine too, and at a very favourable price. On top of that, premium spirits at hard-to-beat prices are also a feature – I was very happy to find my all-time favourite vodka, Stolichnaya, on the list at only RM14 a shot! Great stuff.
Regardless of your level of thirst, go to Barlai to escape the simmering madness of central KL – and enjoy some awesome drinks at a great price, in a very cool location. See you there …
Reasons to visit: hip atmosphere in Pudu; bargain drinks; fun place to meet with friends without breaking the bank.
3 Jalan Sin Chew Kee
(Off Jalan Pudu)
+ 6 03 2141 7850
Open Tuesday – Thursday 4pm – 12am
Friday 4pm – 2am
Weekend 11am – 12am
Closed on Mondays