Whether you’re drinking a cup of coffee, enjoying a candle-lit dinner, or walking through an unfamiliar city at night, tradition would dictate that you do it with at least one other person. After all, the first two of these activities are best enjoyed with friends, family, or those we are doomed to spend the rest of our lives with, whilst the third carries a reasonable chance of being violently murdered if done alone. But, when you’ve travelled to Kuala Lumpur with Imhotep – an ancient, 29-year-old graduate student who would rather sleep than go out for dinner, death by starvation seems like a far more harrowing prospect.
In our sociable society, the thought of “eating alone” would be enough to give most people an instant hernia, and indeed, with Valentine’s day around the corner, many singletons are probably waking up in a cold sweat as this abstract nightmare threatens to become reality. But, as someone who is well-accustomed to enjoying his own company (mainly because nobody else does), I believe that there is no shame in dining alone. And so, when forced to choose between hunger and loneliness on that fateful night last summer, I promptly opted for the latter, and ventured out for a solo stroll through Kuala Lumpur, and a romantic meal for one at Bijan restaurant.
Note: All the meat served here is halal. Alcohol is served on the premises.
After walking into the dimly-lit restaurant that lay before me, I proceeded to ask for a table for one. The waitress who greeted me seemed to offer a sympathetic smile mixed with a touch of pity, but this quickly turned to a look of disgust as I stepped into the light. After running to the kitchen to rinse out her eyes, (and suddenly realising why I was eating alone), she returned with a protective blindfold and took my order.
I began my meal with a white hibiscus mocktail, and to my delight, it was thick and smoothie-like in consistency, and possessed a pleasant, granular texture of brown sugar. Each sip revealed a delightfully rich sweetness and a strong, sharp zest of lime, and had Steak been there, I have no doubt that she would have wrestled it away from my hands. By contrast, my choice of appetiser – the chicken and beef satay – took the meal to a momentary low, as both sets of skewers were exceptionally dry, bland, and overcooked, and were salvaged only by the smooth sweetness of the accompanying peanut sauce.
Chicken and beef satay (MYR21 /£4) and a White Hibiscus mocktail
Luckily, this disappointment was immediately offset by the main course – the Opur Rusuk. These tender beef ribs had been slow-cooked in a thick and rich gravy of aromatic spices, toasted coconut, and palm sugar, resulting in a beautifully soft and moist texture. With each incision, the beef tore away with grace and ease, and although it possessed little flavour of its own, the smooth, soothing sweetness of the gravy did well to elevate the dish.
Slow-cooked beef ribs (MYR79 / £14)
In order to round off my pitiful meal for one, I ordered a bowl of cendol and pandan ice cream – a traditional Malaysian dessert which, much like myself, isn’t the prettiest picture in the album. The soft rice-flour jelly proved to be a textural delight, whilst the coconut milk it was bathed in provided a smooth and velvety coating for the tongue. Unfortunately however, the palm sugar within the milk failed to come through, and the pandan flavour of the ice-cream remained locked inside its frozen core. Needless to say, this was a bit of a shame, as this little bowl of cendol could have made for a perfect dessert, had the milk been just a little sweeter, and the pandan ice cream been just a little more thawed out.
Value For Money: 3.5/5
Of the items I ordered, the satay platter cost MYR21 (£4), and the beef ribs cost MYR79 (£14), whilst the cendol came in at MYR9 (£2). Across the rest of the menu, starters range from MYR10-MYR39 (£1.80-£6) , mains range from MYR30-MYR80 (£5.40-£14), and desserts and drinks cost around MYR7-MYR15 (£1.26-£2.70). Relative to other Malaysian eateries, the prices here certainly lie towards the higher end of the spectrum, and given that some of the items fail to impress, it’s fair to ask whether Bijan warrants the additional expenditure. The truth is, that although the meal was far from perfect, it was undoubtedly one of the better meals I had during my voyage across the Far-East. It’s also worth bearing in mind that Bijan is a fairly high-end restaurant, and the slightly larger bill – (which is unlikely to dent your wallet anyway if you’re a tourist), is for the most part, matched by the quality of the food and the pleasantries of the experience.
Where Bijan truly shines however, is in the hospitality of its staff. Throughout the evening, I was looked after by a team of attentive waiters and waitresses, who would often come by to check how my dinner was going. (Presumably because they thought that I would break into tears at any moment). Service was both quick and courteous, and despite the fact that I had turned up during their closing hours, there was no sense of rush or exasperation on their part.
Decor / Ambience: 4/5
This warm welcome is also embedded within the restaurant itself, which consists of a spacious indoor dining area and an attractive outdoor terrace. Both areas sport a blend of contemporary and traditional styling, and when paired with the low lighting and the soft candles, there’s something inherently graceful and intimate about the restaurant’s character. Suffice to say, it makes for a perfectly romantic setting, and as I sat down at my table, I realised that it was probably a good thing that Imhotep had chosen not to join me.
If I were a plant – I’d be that lonely plant dying on the side.
With its chic surroundings and its satisfying selection of food, Bijan does well to deliver on its promise of “fine Malay cuisine”. Granted, it does not seem to be quite as infallible as the awards and accolades of “best restaurant” would make it out to be, but the cosy and cordial dining experience allows for a certain amount of forgiveness for its occasional shortcomings. Whether you’re a visiting tourist or a local resident of Kuala Lumpur, Bijan restaurant is an establishment worth keeping on your radar, and should you be willing to spend a little bit more than usual, you may just enjoy a comforting and memorable meal.
Bijan Bar & Restaurant
Address: 3-5, Seri Bukit Ceylon, 8 Lorong Ceylon Off, Jalan Raja Chulan, Bukit Ceylon, Kuala Lumpur
Telephone: +60 3-2031 3575