Stumbling out of the cinema at the stroke of midnight, that too on a Monday, our biggest concern was for our stomachs. Even though they had been taken care of through popcorn, dinner was still a must. The issue was finding a good restaurant that served food, as most places take their last order at 11:30pm on weeknights. Weighing our options, we strolled into the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s Golden District, Bintang Walk, which was relatively quiet on a Monday night, but it was the whiff of freshly baked bread that became our food guide. Trusting our sense of smell we walked upto Al-Amar Express, situated on the edge of Bintang Walk and under the watchful eye of it’s sister concern Al-Amar restaurant on the 6th floor of Pavilion Mall.
With severe trepidation, that it might not be serving, I coyly asked the host if they were open. We were promptly taken into a place that seemed like an authentic Middle Eastern Cafe straight from Lebanon. An outdoor patio for the shisha smokers and for those who wanted to enjoy the weather and an indoor area complete with large windows to soak in the view. With the cool midnight breeze blowing and the faint sounds of Arabic tunes, we opted to sit outside to make the most of the atmosphere available. An extensive menu with hot and cold mezzes along with all the Arabic delights.
My one year spent in Jordan had made me fall in love with Arabic cuisine, especially the taste of freshly pressed olive oil. However, the downside was that after that any Middle Eastern restaurant I visited around the world failed to garner any excitement. Those fears were surfacing but I still went ahead and ordered the starters and main courses.
No Arabic meal is complete without hummous, but this one surprised me altogether. A deep well of fresh olive oil was the first thing to catch my eye and instead of dipping the khubz (Arabic flatbread given alongside) in the hummous, I went straight for the oil. One bite and it brought back memories of my stay in the Middle East. It had the same pungent flavor that freshly pressed olive oil should have. Upon my query, I was told that almost 50% of their ingredients are imported from Lebanon, hence the authentic taste. With the huge flavors coming through from the hummous, I knew the rest of the meal would be perfect.
Since the aroma of the baked bread was responsible for our entry into Al-Amar, we could not leave the restaurant without trying it. The menu itself had many topping on the freshly baked bread from cheese to labaneh, but we opted for za’atar bread. The flat breads are known as Manaeesh in Arabic. Authentic Lebanese spices, lemony and strong in taste, lathered with olive oil. The bread was thin and crisp, balanced perfectly with the pungent taste of the za’atar (one of my favorite spices’). Go a step further and dip into the olive oil and let the flavors tantalize your palate. It was the simplest of dishes, yet it perfectly embodied the flavors of the East.
Our stomachs were already giving our brain the signal that they could not fathom much more, but our mains were on their way. It had been a long time since I had feasted on a good shawarma (spiced lamb or chicken meat wrapped in flat bread with pickled vegetables and garlic sauce), in fact the last time I ate one was in the Arabic Quarters of Kuala Lumpur and it was a disaster, cold and dry. Al-Amar’s was world’s apart. It was full of succulent pieces of lamb, perfectly spiced, and pickled vegetables with a generous portion of garlic sauce. Each bite was an ideal combination of ingredients, moist with full-bodied flavors. I would have preferred it if it were slightly warmer, but I was willing to overlook that due to its bold flavors.
The famous flame grilled chicken was next. Perfectly cooked chicken, crisp on the outside and tender on the inside was a delight. Dipped in the garlic sauce and the remaining olive oil, it was a treat to eat. In fact, I took the remainder back home and used it in soup the next day.
All this feasting was washed down with a glass of Mint Lemonade. The first time I had one of these was in Syria, heavy on the mint with a hint of lemon; the perfect refreshment.
The quality of the food was par excellance and it is no wonder that it has won the TimeoutKL food award for the last 3 years consecutively. Authenticity is the name of the game; it is the only way to succeed. It is the kind of quality I would not mind splurging on, but the bill for food and drinks was below RM100. It is definitely a feather in the cap of the owners and chefs’ to bring Lebanon into the heart of Kuala Lumpur. My next stop will now be to dine at the more formal Al-Amar Restaurant on the premier dining level of Pavilion Mall.