From humble beginnings as a rubber estate in the 1950s, Damansara Heights (also known as Bukit Damansara) has evolved into one of Kuala Lumpur’s most affluent districts. Having recently undergone significant urban redevelopment, this lively yet relaxed suburb is now luring in some of the city’s trendiest establishments
Co-founder, Sitka Studio
For Jenifer Kuah, opening up a modern fine-dining restaurant in the neighbourhood she called home as a kid was an easy choice. “I grew up around Damansara Heights. I like the Malaysian version of suburbia – it’s greener and friendlier than the city, and I like having everything on my doorstep,” says the seasoned restaurateur.
Featuring sleek interiors that juxtapose grey slate and warm wood, Sitka Studio is the swankier, first-floor offshoot of its sister café, Sitka Restaurant, which is located on the ground level of the same shophouse in Plaza Batai on Jalan Batai. It’s open only on Friday nights, serving five- and seven-course menus of contemporary cuisine by Scottish chef Christian Recomio. “Sitka Studio is where we don’t have to compromise. Here, we don’t just give people what they want. We give them the food we want to make,” he says.
Just down the street from Sitka Studio is one of Recomio’s favourite spots: a hawker establishment called Shangri-La that’s renowned for its pork noodles served with a rich broth.
Kuah often heads out to Plaza Damansara, another commercial enclave nearby, where she is particularly fond of two bars. “JungleBird is great for rum cocktails, and I like Skullduggery for its martinis,” she says. “There’s also Croisserie for quality coffee and pastries, and Pekan Kopitiam for east coast Malay food. “I like the deep-fried ikan keli (catfish) with sambal and tempeh with beans, with a cup of teh tarik (pulled tea) to finish off the meal.”
Co-founder, Merchant & Sisters
Merchant & Sisters is a mixed lifestyle space located inside Plaza Batai with a cosy throwback vibe. There’s a store selling clothing and home décor sourced from around the world, a café serving up delicious toasties and coffee plus a barbershop.
“Our style is inspired by ’70s rock – Cher, Debbie Harry – but it’s not so full-on. You could wear our clothes in the day, or dress them up at night,” says Sunita Petrus about her clothing label.
When she’s not at Merchant & Sisters, she likes hanging out at Mezze, a bistro and wine bar in Medan Damansara. “It’s a cosy place where you get really good food and wine, and it feels more personal as it’s small.”
She’ll also sometimes pop by the new DC Mall, which houses Birch, a restaurant that does contemporary twists on Latin American and Asian cuisines. If you’re in the mood for good Japanese fare, she recommends Kinme in Plaza Damansara for their sashimi. And if you’re ever looking for a gym, head to Firestation Fit.
Yogesh Upadhyay & Natasha Ng
Four years ago, a job change brought Mumbai-born Yogesh Upadhyay to Kuala Lumpur, where he met Malaysian Natasha Ng and fell in love. In 2017, they opened Flour in Plaza Damansara.
“Before I met him, I thought Indian food was [just] roti canai (flatbread), mamak (what Malaysians call the culture of late-night eating at Indian Muslim cafés) food and banana leaf. Then he cooked at home for me one day – just chapati and curry – and it was so simple yet so good,” Ng says. When Upadhyay opened Flour, a North Indian restaurant with the lively vibe of a French bistro, it was the chef’s first return to the kitchen in 15 years.
“I’m a traditional chef, and I [draw on] the past to make old favourites but also to create new dishes,” Upadhyay says. He insists on making his delicious breads the way they were made “thousands of years ago”, without yeast or eggs – only flour.
The couple finds Damansara Heights a gratifying spot to run a restaurant, as it’s a place where they can count on the residents to show up. “I don’t think a person in this neighbourhood wishes to go further than this area. They’ll buy groceries around here. They’ll eat around here. That’s what sustains this place,” Upadhyay says.
He is picky when it comes to dining out but likes Nero Nero in DC Mall: “It’s an Italian restaurant run by chef Giuseppe Lioce from Puglia, who is a dear friend. There, it’s all about nonna, his grandmother’s food, with a fresh approach.”
In Plaza Damansara, he recommends cricket-themed pub Sticky Wicket for a casual drink. He also suggests Ben’s for grocery shopping. “It offers an excellent range of products, local and foreign. It also houses a café where I can sit and have coffee and just wind down.”
If you want to squeeze in a workout session, Ng recommends Omology Yoga. And if you’re travelling with kids, she suggests taking them to the National Science Centre for a day of fun with the family.
When JungleBird opened in Plaza Damansara in 2017, it was the first dedicated rum bar in Malaysia. “I think we bring a certain element of fun and escapism to the neighbourhood. We don’t worry about a dress code and we play anything from Afro beats to reggae and rockabilly,” says Joshua Ivanovic, an English barman who’s lived and worked in Malaysia for over eight years.
At the moment, he thinks that Damansara Heights has become a destination in its own right. “I think people travel here knowing where they’re heading before they leave the house, though there are a few hidden gems if you wander around with an open mind. It has a chilled-out vibe, it generally feels safe and the mix of people who come here is hugely diverse.”
When he’s not tending to patrons at JungleBird, you might find him hanging out at Sid’s Pub or Sam’s for pub grub and beer in the same Plaza Damansara area, or Jack Rose a short distance away in the basement of the Wisma E&C office building for creative cocktails.
As for solid restaurant recommendations, he says: “Definitely Flour. There’s also Enoteca for Italian, where I’d recommend the fried calamari and Diavola pizza. They also do a mean platter of cheese and cold-cut meats. You should also try A1 bistro if you’re after nasi kandar (rice served with a variety of curries and side dishes originating from Penang) or late-night food. And after a big night, you can recharge with a personal spa treatment at the London Orchid or a round of golf at the TPC golf course.”
SEE ALSO: City Guide: Kuala Lumpur
This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine