Ramadan buffets at hotels all tend to be the same. There is inevitably a wide, varied spread, with all the usual suspects often on the menu to cover all bases.
So you’ll have things on the buffet you quite like and others you won’t even remember after. And this makes sense, because the meals are prepared by a battalion of chefs in the hotel, and they can’t all possibly specialise in everything.
Which is what makes the brand-new Hotel Stripes’ Ramadan buffet at The Snug (one of the eateries in the hotel) such a welcome change. Instead of a huge, mind-boggling selection of food, the eatery has gone for a reasonably extensive – and reasonably prized – but well-curated selection of dishes for the buffet, which runs every day until June 23.
But the thing that really sets this buffet apart from its peers is the fact that it hosts a whole lot of signature dishes from neighbourhood restaurants, which are all given a share of the spotlight.
Stripes is strategically positioned along Jalan Kamunting in the Chow Kit area of Kuala Lumpur. The YTL hotel was originally the first-ever Bangunan Yeoh Tiong Lay way back in the 1970s, so the history of the neighbourhood is very much ingrained in the hotel group’s DNA. Which is also why the hotel’s PR team decided that incorporating the neighbourhood eats would be the best plan for their inaugural Ramadan buffet.
“One of our bosses came up with the concept of eating with Jalan Kamunting and by extension, eating with the neighbourhood, because the neighbourhood story is important to us,” says Alvin Khoo, the hotel’s manager.
In tandem with that, the buffet, which is priced at RM80 nett, includes lots of famous fare from iconic neighbouring stalls and restaurants. There is Cowboy Mamak’s mee mamak; Abu stall’s pasembor Abu and mee rebus Abu; MMZ restaurant’s famed murtabak kambing and sup kambing and sup ayam (on rotation) served with Indian-style bread; and the historical Capital Café’s beef rendang, gulai ayam and ikan asam pedas.
The hotel supplements these offerings with their own in-house concoctions as well as the famous apam balik Seri Menanti (from a catering company that specialises in crunchy apam balik made with Nestum, as opposed to nuts).
The selections were all hand-picked by Khoo, who is familiar with the area and regularly frequents many of these eateries.
“I come from a food and beverage background, so to come up with this concept, I selected signature dishes from certain cafes and stalls. It’s about recognising and promoting them and giving them extra business during Ramadan,” he says.
Khoo says all the eateries were excited about participating in this, as they had never been approached by a hotel before to do something like this.
“They were very happy to serve their dishes in the hotel. There were no objections, they were very supportive and didn’t hesitate at all. We just came up with an understanding and that was it,” he says.
Based on that understanding, the selected restaurants are paid a fixed amount according to the quantity of food they are required to prepare. The food is prepared at their premises but the hotel does quality control checks to make sure everything is in order.
It’s difficult to make a choice when you’re faced with so many dazzling options, but I would highly recommend that you begin your buffet meal with MMZ’s sup ayam. MMZ, which is located on Jalan Kamunting, is owned by the son of the proprietor of the famous Sup Haji Abu stall along Jalan Doraisamy, so the eatery has the family recipe down pat.
MMZ’s rich, peppery broth is strong and soothing, and will prove especially rewarding if you have congested chest (or just an all-round bad day). The cottony soft bread served on the side is great for mopping up every last residue of soup in your bowl, and is one of those sidekicks that quietly elevates a dish without stealing the spotlight.
From MMZ, there is also the equally enticing murtabak kambing. The bread is soft and doughy on the outside and gently yields to an interior that is stuffed with generous – and I do mean generous – amounts of juicy minced lamb. The pickled onions served on the side offer a nice crunchy element to go with all that velvety softness.
Then there is Cowboy Mamak’s mee mamak, which is pretty much as good as it gets. Cowboy Mamak is owned by Abdul Rashid Abdullah Satar, also referred to as “cowboy”. He runs his stall on Jalan Kamunting with his daughter and has been making mee mamak for aeons. And this is evidenced in the taste of his noodles, which are springy and haven’t lost their bounce. The dish is also adequately spicy but isn’t claggy or too oily. If you’re after a plate of comfort food, this hits all the right notes.
Abu’s mee rebus meanwhile, is a slow charmer. Abu’s stall in an alley around Jalan Kamunting is so popular that people come from as far away as Nilai and Bangi for a plate of his popular noodles.
The buffet experience allows you to put as much or as little of ingredients like bean sprouts, egg, tofu and fritters into your mee rebus as you like, which is great if you’re a fussy eater. And then you can ladle the gravy generously or sparingly, depending on your inclination.
This mee rebus at first seems a tad muted, but the more you eat, the more it grows on you, until before you know it, you’ve polished off the entire plate with gusto.
Abu’s pasembor is another one of those D-I-Y dishes that require self-assembly. So you can generously spoon cucumber, bean sprouts, tofu and prawn fritters onto your plate and top it up with the thick, peanut-rich gravy. It’s a reasonably satisfying offering, although the sauce could be a little more robust.
From the famed Capital Café on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, you must, must try the fiery beef rendang. Capital Café is sort of an institution in the city, and the 61-year-old eatery has even been featured in publications like Lonely Planet.
Just a sample of Capital’s crazy-good beef rendang will help you understand how the eatery has sustained its popularity over the years. The gravy that coats the meat is rich and full of spices and the beef pieces are pull-apart tender – so malleable that they glide down your throat like pieces of silk.
The gulai ayam is another winner, offering well-cooked chicken couched in a rich curry that is sweet and really tasty.
For a sweet, sweet ending to your meal, have an apam balik (or three). The apam is lovely and crispy on the outside, lavishly buttered on the inside and filled with Nestum flakes, which give it a lovely, distinctive crunch. It’s one of those things you have to eat when it’s piping hot and fresh off the griddle. Trust me, this could potentially be love at first bite.
Overall, your buffet experience at Stripes is likely to be memorable simply because there are dishes here that have been perfected over decades and continue to be made by people who see it as a labour of love. And that is exactly what makes this buffet different from the rest – there is a heart and soul to it that is evident in nearly every mouthful of the neighbourhood dishes.
“In hotels, some buffets are mass produced, and honestly, hotel chefs can’t be good at everything. But here, the degree of specialisation from each of the neighbourhood restaurants is very high, so you’ll get the best of what they have, for sure. I eat in all these places nearly every day, so I know this is true,” says Khoo.
Level 2, Hotel Stripes
25, Jalan Kamunting
50300 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2038 0000
Ramadan buffet open daily: 7pm to 10pm