Nestled in a cosy corner of Arcoris Mont Kiara in Kuala Lumpur is Kumar’s. The restaurant has a casual, modern vibe that seems to indicate that it is both new and untested. But in reality, the brand is anything but new.
In fact, Kumar’s traces its roots all the way back to 1969 when it began life as a stall in Brickfields, KL, helmed by the owner’s mother. The stall was said to be a popular haunt for Malaysian Indian fare but shut down in the 1970s.
Then six years ago, Kumar’s resurfaced again, this time in Oasis Damansara in Selangor. The owner retained his mother’s heirloom recipes, which is why the place attracted a large following. But the area itself was changing and the restaurant once again found itself needing a new space to call “home”.
“A lot of restaurants were moving out, because that place was getting a bit tired and it was more of a watering hole. So we decided ‘Okay, maybe we should move somewhere else where we can showcase our food’,” says Emmanuel Devandran, Kumar’s long-time general manager.
Kumar’s new home is about a year old and sees a more diverse group of diners than the largely local followers the brand attracted in its previous spot. But the food remains the same – all the recipes are still made according to Kumar’s mother’s exacting standards and she even pops in once in a while to check that everything is in order.
The brand believes in maintaining high standards, so all the curry powders and chilli powders are made in-house while seafood is sourced fresh, as opposed to using frozen.
When you place an order at Kumar’s, the meal does not arrive congealed and cold. Instead, everything is made only once an order is placed, which defies the conventional wisdom at most Malaysian Indian eateries.
“These are things that we really want to do because we want to show that we can give quality food to everyone,” says Devandran.
Start your epicurean experience at Kumar’s with the crackling bhendi (RM11.90+) which is essentially okra breaded and deep-fried to a crisp. The okra is unbelievably addictive – each crunchy shard will easily become acquainted with your palate that before you know it, the entire basket will be polished off.
Kumar’s has become well known for its fish head curry (RM99.90+), which makes use of a giant slice of snapper as well as complementary ingredients like okra, brinjals and long beans. The fish is fresh and tender to the core, but the gravy is a little wanting and you might feel like it could be a tad thicker and more robustly flavoured.
Things hit an all-time high with the flower crab masala (RM99.90+ per kg) which features crabs still in their sturdy carapace surrounded by a hedonistically good masala, which in turn is buoyed by the addition of copious amounts of curry leaves and crunchy bits of onion.
This crab masala is ridiculously good – the crab meat is plump and silken and worth the time required to excavate the meat from its hard shell. And the masala is a true thing of beauty – spice-infused and packed with flavour. And together? Well, you couldn’t ask for better things to be in your mouth.
The bone marrow pepper masala (RM79.90+) picks up where the crab left off with bone marrow suffused in a masala that has fiery pepper undertones underscored by punchy hits of ginger. It’s the sort of masala that is likely to clear nasal passages and leave you feeling lighter and more clear-headed than when you arrived. And the bone marrow itself is divine – the meat tender and well-cooked. Diners are provided with an implement to extract the marrow and here you’ll discover rich bone marrow fat that is putty-soft and unctuous with a buttery underbelly.
More goodness is on the way with the fish puttu (RM35.90+) which is a great rendition of a classic Indian dish popular in south India. Kumar’s version combines milk shark fish, dried chillies, curry leaves and grated coconut in what proves to be a memorable pairing where every element is incredibly well-balanced. The fish here is flaky and underscored by nutty tropical notes from the coconut while the spice element runs as an undercurrent throughout, punctuating the meal with the flavours of the Indian sub-continent.
Although fried chicken is a fairly common offering at most Indian joints, Kumar’s fried chicken (RM17.90+) is really something else. Here, crispy, crackly skin yields to meat that is incredibly tender and juicy in what can only be described as finger-licking-good fried chicken that could seriously give KFC a run for its money.
Wash down all that goodness with a glass of ginger chai (RM9.90). Made with fresh Bentong ginger, the tea is soothing and strong (although a touch sweet) with pronounced ginger notes guaranteed to send you happily on your way.
Although Kumar’s has been doing well since moving to the new location, the brand has no intention of spreading its wings just yet.
“We have a lot of offers, but the owner does not want to franchise, because once we do that, the quality will not be monitored as closely. So it’s not just about opening many outlets, because many chains were good when they started, but lost the plot after franchising. So we don’t want to go that way – we just want to maintain the quality here,” says Devandran.
LG-5-01, Arcoris Plaza
10, Jalan Kiara
50480 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-6412 2969
Open daily: 11am to 3pm; 5pm to 10.30pm (open Fri to Sun for breakfast from 7.30am to 10.30am)
Note: This article was first published in Star2.