It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I last took a holiday. September last year in Italy, pre-blogging days. I think I only took a couple of pics of what I was eating on that trip: like in Verona where I was eating the regional specialties such as donkey and horse. Did I photograph them? No. All I have is one photo of my delicious pizza or that amazing black truffle pasta in Gubbio. Don’t you just wish you could press the rewind button to go back and take more photo’s of the food?
This years holiday started off as a quick two day stop-over in KL, one of my favourite foodie cities. Mr K’s mum was with us and given her not-so-good knees and intolerance with temperatures above 20°C, our collective activities were curbed somewhat. By the time our flight landed and we sky trained it into town and checked into our hotel, it was time for bed. I couldn’t sleep so rather that count sheep I thought about where we could eat the next day: that little chicken place on Jalan Bulang, somewhere in Chinatown maybe?
The following day I drew the curtains and expected to see the dreary weather I generally expect every time we visit this city. For the five or six times I’ve been to KL, this was the second time I saw blue skies and no rain. Sunny, 26°C and tolerable (for me) humidity. Glorious! Breakfast was had downstairs in the hotel … fantastic buffet of Western and Malaysian goodies this place always excells at. However, this post isn’t about our breakfast, it’s about where we ended up for dinner.
Rather than trapse the streets to try and find a suitable place for dinner we took the monorail up to Bukit Bintang and downed a few cool beers at the Pavilion. It’s air conditioned and has a decent selection of eateries and to our surprise (something we missed last time we were in town) we discovered Food Republic, a great food court on level 1. Personally I would have been happy sweating it out in some hawker centre, but it wasn’t all about me. A quick read of a few menu’s and we decide on Dragon-i. Yup, Chinese food in Malaysia, and I’m glad we did.
This sprawling restaurant is divided in two. One side has large round tables crowned with lazy susans and the other, where we were seated, has the regular kind. Talk about a busy place. We were lucky to get in and aside from one other table we were the only visible tourists. Dragon-i specialises in la mian (hand-pulled noodles) and while you sit and eat you can watch them being made in the open kitchen at the rear of the restaurant. With surgical masks over their faces the kitchen staff work like busy bees tossing and flipping noodles and pleat dumplings like absolute pro’s. It always impresses me when I watch this kind of performance.
Did someone mention dumplings? I was quick to learn that Mr K’s mum has never had this style of Chinese food and according to her all she gets in her home town of Mt Maunganui in NZ is the conventional and anglicised sweet & sour kind. Getting the attention of the staff here can be a challenge and when you do don’t expect too much of a smile. The brusque nature of the staff made me feel like I was back at home, in Sydney’s Chinatown. Sigh. At least they’re nice enough to give you a dish of wonderful braised peanuts while you scan the menu.
We order a bunch of dishes and the first to arrive is the Shanghainese pan-fried dumplings (9). Soft and yielding and nothing special until the hot chilli sauce meat dumplings (12) arrive. Damn these are good, with just the right amount of chilli heat. I glance up and notice Mum relishing the food. Nice one.
Did someone order more dumplings? The next round, being the Beijing steamed meat dumplings (8), are juicy and meaty and have a slightly thicker skin. Great with the black vinegar. And now, how could you not order xiao long bao (10) when it’s on the menu? The other table of tourists seated behind me happened to be a couple from Australia. How did I know? When I heard the words “It looks like a saggy pair of balls” I looked around and found hubby dangling a xiao long bao between his chopsticks infront of his wifes face. I went back to my own saggy xiao long bao and savoured its delicious collagen-rich juices before dipping it into the black vinegar and ginger and finishing it off. Beautiful.
The next dish to arrive came as a bit of a surprise. If something says sauteed I’d probably expect a stir-fry with a few dried chillies, yes? All I can say is what a pleasant surprise. I always find myself looking around the restaurant to see what other people are eating and as we sat here for the duration of our meal I noticed a great deal of the same dish being delivered. Shallow baskets brimming with crispy bits of something mixed with what appeared to be dried chilli. Well, here we have it. Sauteed diced chicken with dried chilli (20).
At first I thought “Holy shit, I’m about to die” with the amount of chilli used in the dish but once you popped one of the crispy little numbers in your mouth, it was all good. At first you feel the soft crunch giving way to a tender and very well seasoned piece of chicken, then the chilli creeps up and says hello. A polite and mild hello, not a loud and intrusive one. A definite “must have” if you ever get to this restaurant.
At this stage Mr K and his mum were getting full but my hollow legs weren’t quite at capacity. Another quick look at the menu and … gasp … “How did I miss this the first time?” The menu is full of pictures and I swear I didn’t see any piggy buns (7.8). My inner pre-pubescent school girl was screaming for a bit of food fun so I just couldn’t help myself. Unlike Chefs Gallery in Sydney where these little piggies are filled with black sesame paste, here at Dragon-i they’re filled with a deliciously sweet red bean paste. Mmm piggy-sweet. Now I’m done.
Once we paid up the 20-odd dollars for all of this great food I caught a glimpse of a couple of the chefs knocking up what appeared to be custard cream buns. Beautifully golden and perfectly formed.
I’ve also learned that Dragon-i can be found at eight other locations, including the original at Mid Valley Mega Mall, so if you’re in town you don’t have very far to travel for your fill of great dumplings.
Dragon-i Restaurant – Level 1, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, 168 Jalan Bukit Bintang