A conduit for cultural exchange, Borneo Restaurant & Bar presents ingredients and recipes from the other side of the South China Sea in a new light. Here's what you should know about the casual fine dining restaurant in Telawi, Bangsar:

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Borneo Takes A Page From Central Restaurante By Virgilio Martínez

Rather than scooping up imported artichokes, beans and chicory from our supermarket aisles, Emily Chak, consulting chef for Borneo Bangsar, decided to poke her head in our own 'backyard.' Much like Virgilio Martínez, chef-owner of Central Restaurante in Lima, Peru, Chak is bringing jungle produce to her clienteles' attentions. Another Malaysian luminary who does likewise is Chef Darren Teoh of Dewakan.


2 / 10

Most Of Their Ingredients Are Foraged, Not Farmed

Advocates of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle (as opposed to the agrarian way of life) will be pleased to know that most of Borneo's ingredients hail from biodiverse jungles. "We buy our ingredients from the morning markets in Kuching or Sandakan, but have the natives to thank for collecting the bounty," explained Sheila Velappan, one of the friendly faces behind the new establishment.

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The Owners Personally Hand Carry Their Ingredients To Peninsula Malaysia

Despite their short shelf lives, none of Borneo's ingredients are frozen. "Although it is cheaper to fly from West Malaysia to Singapore and Hong Kong than to East Malaysia, running this restaurant requires return visits to Sabah and Sarawak." But as Velappan sees it, going to and fro is a small price to pay for educating their customers. "These ingredients are so special that everyone needs to try them, especially the seasonal stuff!"

4 / 10

The Restaurant Strictly Serves Contemporary Cuisine

Those seeking a taste of traditional East Malaysian dishes had better look elsewhere, as Borneo Restaurant & Bar is taking a different route. "Unsurprisingly, East Malaysians are our toughest critics," revealed Velappan. “But we've never claimed to serve authentic East Malaysian fare; our main goal is to introduce our customers to ingredients they don't often eat, even if they come from our own part of the world."

5 / 10

Some Of Their Creations Take After Familiar Western Dishes

Chak has devised a clever means of making alien ingredients less intimidating, which is to allude to popular Western fare. Take the Jesselton Salad, for instance; described as "Caesar Salad with a Borneo twist," romaine lettuce is furnished with hard-boiled eggs (same), Grano Padano (same), olive-fed pork (different) and dabai salted fish dressing (different). Similarly, the Crispy Cangkuk Manis listed under 'Small Bites' reminds us an awful lot of wispy deep-fried kale.

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Vegan 'Butter' Is One Of The Restaurant's Prize Products

It’s easy to be cynical until the minyak engkabang passes your lips. Creamy and fragrant, the product of Shorea macrophylla, a plant native to Sarawak, is a central ingredient in Borneo's bestselling Engkabang Pasta. "It's a very precious product as the engkabang flower only blooms once every 5 years," explained Velappan. Inside these elusive flowers are illipe nuts, from which the vegetable fat is extracted. "The texture is similar to cheese," continued the restaurateur while passing around bamboo tubes stuffed with the said 'butter.' "You can leave it on the kitchen counter as it only melts when exposed to heat."


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An Assortment Of Dishes Are Served On Sizzling Platters

Super for snacking, the kong pia — sweet spiced bread that's been fried lightly — is served with a mix of minced pork, salted fish and egg yolk, which bubbles and squeaks on a hot platter. Assemble as a DIY sandwich and enjoy.

Also served piping hot, the Borneo Ranee is an obvious ode to oh chien (oyster omelette). We did the honours of piercing the yolk so that it flooded all over the char kueh (rice cakes), oysters and prawns.

The Borneo Steak, is hands down, the most delicious steak we've massacred in months. The pre-sliced slab of meat, which has been rubbed with red rice wine marinade, is reminiscent of pork ribs braised with shaoxing wine and fermented bean curd.

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Borneo's Bar Boasts The Widest Collection Of Tuak In KL

One of Borneo's biggest draws is its tuak flight, which will change according to what's in season. Produced in small batches by artisanal makers, the Sarawakian rice wine is carefully curated by the owners. "What I like about good tuak is there’s no aftertaste. You know that scratchy feeling you get from certain cheap alcohols?" voiced Velappan. "There's none of that here." Of the 6 that we sampled, the Bad Cat Asap, a smoky and full-bodied brew by Bad Cat Tuak, converted us into fans.

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All Artwork In The Restaurant Is Purchasable For A Good Cause

Taken a fancy to the gold painting of the wildcat eyes or the abstract impressionist work of three female forms? Simply inquire within for costs. All artwork at Borneo Restaurant & Bar is for sale and 20% of all proceeds will be directed to a Bornean foundation of the artist or patron’s choice.

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Borneo Is Branding East Malaysian Cuisine For A Greater Good

Never mind the tourists or expats; West Malaysians have much to learn about East Malaysian cuisine as it is. "Singapore is so good at promoting their food," said a vexed Velappan. "We as Malaysians need to step up. We need to say, 'Look! We have all of these different regional cuisines.' Come discover Malaysia through its food."

  • Art DirectionTrisha Toh
  • StylingTrisha Toh
  • PhotographyBilly Simon