It was like whizzing in and out of nostalgic Shanghai and a contemporary world. Think of Paris of the East, and New York of the West! That is precisely the ambience exuded by one of Kuala Lumpur’s (KL) rising night scene: Concubine KL. From the ashes of an old colonial visage to the sweeping grandeur of the Shanghai’s roaring 1920s and finally to KL’s upbeat contemporary era, this ‘charmant’ lair in the heart of Jalan Kwai Chai Hong embodies it all. Welcome to a new world of class, chic with a dash of raciness.
** This article contains non-halal elements! **
The Kwai Chai Hong Effect
It is hard to imagine Petaling Street (Jalan Petaling) as anything more than a typical Chinatown façade. Laden with old, rustic buildings and popular for its dirt cheap street market, the idea of hidden speakeasies infused with its rich heritage became alluring. The Kwai Chai Hong effect soon became irresistible.
Concubine KL is in the centre of ‘Ghost Lane’ or ‘Little Demon Alley’. Now, it is not as eerie as it sounds. Back in the days when migrant workers from China came here to settle down, they would refer to misbehaving children running down the alley as ‘Kwai Chai Hong‘ or ‘Little Demon Alley’. Its notoriety is further amplified by its dark past. ‘Twas a time where Jalan Petaling was regarded as nothing more than a place ridden with gamblers, drug addicts and drunkards. Whilst most steered away from its racy past, only a few dared to transform a haunting history into a captivating social hub.
“I saw something more within these old dilapidated buildings. It was about striking the right balance between old and new, creating a reality from a nostalgic vision I had,” said Nico, the owner of Concubine KL. Kwai Chai Hong fitted the bill and it would soon journey us back into the golden era of KL Chinatown.
The New Concubine Era
“People tend to regard concubines as the mistress. They might not be wrong in thinking that way but we are here to add an element of twist to that.”Nico, concubine kl owner
Indeed, concubines are the last person every woman would ever dream of becoming. After all, always coming in second best doesn’t quite fit in modern day feminism. So what makes Concubine KL stand out from the cliché?
“Look closely at our logo. It means concubine in Chinese calligraphy. But if you were to break the symbol into two halves, it reads ‘woman’ and ‘independence’. And that is what we are all about, empowering a bold and strong female presence,” said Nico.
An Inviting Concubine
Undoubtedly, such a persona is best exemplified by the two most ubiquitous mural in the house. “Observe the way they hold a cigarette and a fan. There is a sense of confidence and defiance within her much like a modern day woman,” added Nico. Every detail right down to the colour theme was well thought out, staying true to the adage ‘Everything Old Is New Again.’ Concubine KL has successfully struck the right balance between old and new.
Choose Your Concubine Delight!
Their names were rather bizarre yet inviting. It is a no-brainer that the innovative concoction of cocktails is one of the allures of restaurant bars. Whilst acing the cocktails is one thing, creating a diversified and delectable menu certainly puts Concubine KL a notch above the rest. Danny Winter, being the main driver for Concubine KL’s culinary adventure, is a man of passion and dedication behind the kitchen doors. “I love experimenting with new flavours and smells, which in turn translate to the menu. It is not just about the ambience but also the inviting scent of the food and drinks,” said Danny. Here are some of the ‘must-try’ cocktails and food:
Must-Try Concubine Cocktails
If you are looking for the right blend of sweetness and tartness in one go, then this is it! The first sip of the cucumber on the foam is subtly replaced by the gradual tartness of tamarind, lime and Machetazo Mezcal. Indeed the house favourite!
This is certainly not for the faint hearted. The first palatable taste of the cocktail is cringe-worthy but if you prefer something dry, bitter, citrusy with a tinge of sweetness, the Empress Negroni fits the bill. This classic twist of Negroni sees the adept fusion of Widges Dry Gin, Campari and Oolong tea along with the subtle perfume from the rose. If you would like to taste your first Negroni, then look no further.
Must-Try Concubine Food!
Foie Gras and Smoked Duck Gyozas
Forget the French way of eating foie gras! The first bite oozes sweetness from the pineapple chutney drizzled on top, which then translates to the mouth-watering fat within the foie gras itself. Once you have one bite, you would want the whole plate to yourself.
Now this is not just your ordinary burger. Its key content is the beef and bone marrow patty which gives it that robust flavour. And then comes the complementary flavours of garlic alloli, pickled shiitake mushrooms, cucumber acar, spring onions, cheddar, and fries to create an orgasmic punch.
Soft-Shell Crab Bao Bun
This is yet another favourite snack food, steering away from the typical bao bun (steamed bun) fillings like pork or chicken. From the irresistible crunch of the fried soft-shell crab to the sweetness of the soft bao bun, this is always a crowd pleaser in any given situation.
Korean-Style Chicken Wings
Let’s face it everyone loves a good chicken wing but this isn’t your usual KFC. While the succulent crunchy Korean-style chicken wings is gaining popularity, Concubine KL has upheld its standard by cooking up the perfect combination of spicy, sour, sweet and salty chicken wings. It is hard for the night to go wrong with this dish on the table.
The Ageless Concubine KL
The proposed concept was pretty straightforward. Nico envisioned of a place where people could relax, banter and enjoy quality food and drinks in the background of rustic Petaling Street. I guess it is safe to say he got more than what he bargained for. Its transformation from Petaling Street’s underbelly to a magnetic social hub is truly remarkable. Indeed, come rain, shine, or pandemic, this ageless Concubine KL is certainly here to stay.
Also check out Circa Bar, KL’s other trending speakeasy!