Upon first inspection, Ebb & Flow might seem like just another restaurant in Bangsar’s sardine-packed Telawi stretch in Kuala Lumpur, no better or worse than the rest. That is until you 1) meet Robert Gilliland, the charismatic owner of the place, and 2) try the food.
Gilliland is a (very handsome) Australian native who has been in Malaysia for a number of years now. I first met him a couple of years ago, and even now, am struck by his uncanny resemblance to a young Hugh Jackman and his unwavering enthusiasm for hospitality and people.
Ebb & Flow marks Gilliland’s second F&B venture after the hugely successful Drift Dining & Bar in Changkat Bukit Bintang, although he says he has been eyeing the Bangsar area for a number of years now.
“I was looking for the perfect location in Bangsar for about five years. And to me, it was important that what we did here had to add to the area that we were in. So there’s no point coming along if we’re doing the same thing as the guys next door, then what you’re trying to do is take away from other people’s business. And what I always want to do is add to a community, not take from the community,” he says.
For the menu, Gilliland looked to cherished childhood memories for inspiration, strung from the exuberantly festive dinner parties his parents threw – and still throw – every weekend in his home in Adelaide, Australia.
“There is a big immigrant community in Australia from what is called the Levant region – from Greece to Egypt and Syria – Mediterranean to Middle Eastern, so the food here is a nod to that, because my parents spent a lot of time cooking that sort of food so for me, it has a lot of memories.
“I remember growing up, my parents would entertain anywhere from four to 20 people every weekend, and Friday and all day Saturday, every flat surface in the house would be covered with food. And even now, when I go home, there’s always lively conversation and food and that’s what I wanted to recreate,” he says.
The menu is compact with little more than 20 options on offer, a strategic move that was planned, as Gilliland treats every item that comes out of the kitchen like a precious child, only adding more to the stable once he is satisfied that everything is already perfect.
“That’s why we have a smaller menu, because we work on each dish as we go and make sure it’s as good as it can possibly be and then move on,” he says.
A meal at Ebb & Flow is clearly designed for sharing, as most of the dishes on offer are either bar bites or sharing platters. Having said that, portions are on the small side, so you’ll probably have to order a few to properly feed your party.
Start with the Moroccan spiced cauliflower (RM27) which features cauliflower marinated in Moroccan spices and then roasted. This is a pleasant opener to the meal, one that really highlights the meaty bite of each cauliflower. The saffron yoghurt in this amalgamation does a fantastic job of adding a tangy complement to this pairing and overall, you’ll get the feeling that the stage is set for a pleasurable night of feasting.
Move on to the grilled haloumi (RM33). Here, wiltingly tender Turkish eggplant melds harmoniously with the spongy, delicate qualities of the haloumi, which still retains a firmness and hold. It is a meal that is simple, but it is also telling of how good simple food can be.
Up next, try the roasted sweet potato (RM21) with dukkah spice and mustard yoghurt, another one of these seemingly benign, uncomplicated meals that ultimately ends up holding so much power and sway that you’ll find yourself polishing off each sweet, yielding sweet potato cube with relish (all the while making a mental note to revisit the meal the next time you’re here).
The dukkah tiger prawns (RM32) feature large local prawns that have been cooked in dukkah butter, with shallots, cherry tomatoes and olives cheering up this glazed, shiny assemblage. The prawns here are voluptuous, corpulent creatures that are also perfectly cooked. The butter adds a salty note and some slickness to the meal and the olives in this addition offer a nice tart quality.
If you’re after something from the avian family, well, you’re in luck, because the spring chicken (RM32) is just the ticket. Here, perfectly roasted chicken is accentuated with almond, olives and anchovy butter in what proves to be a fluid, dexterous synchrony of simple flavours combining to create a little bit of magic.
The beef tagine (RM39) picks up where the chicken left off, setting saliva glands into overtime with an ordinary-looking but extraordinary-tasting offering that features pliable, pull-apart lamb swimming in a tagine that is bursting with flavour and a light sweetness.
Perhaps the blot in Ebb & Flow’s otherwise pristine tableau is the spiced lamb (RM39) with capsicum and shallots, which is the least impressive of all the menu offerings. The lamb is cooked well, but the entire configuration doesn’t really leave a lasting impression.
Sweeten your experience here with some dessert in the form of the baklava (RM22) which is enhanced with cinnamon walnuts, chocolate and cream encased in filo pastry. The pastry is flaky to the touch and the chocolate – while not normal in baklava – proves to be an inspired choice.
A meal at Ebb & Flow wouldn’t be complete without some drinks to line your belly and lift your spirits, which is why you’d do well to order up a cocktail like Lebanon Calling (RM35). The anise-infused gin, with lemon juice, orange, egg white and simple syrup has a floral veneer underscored by spice-laden notes that undulate throughout this delightful intoxicant.
Having sampled that, you’ll no doubt be hankering for more of the good stuff, so let me point you in the direction of the pomegranate cosmo (RM35) which is made up of pomegranate-infused vodka, triple sec, simple syrup and lime juice in what is the liquid equivalent of a pick-up line that hits all the right fun, flirty notes.
Having now successfully launched two eateries under his belt, Gilliland is determined to keep ‘em coming. But while he has ideas for restaurants, cafes and bars floating in his head, he isn’t in any hurry to execute anything just yet.
“I would say soon, but I don’t know what soon is, whether it’s next week or next year. And I think it’s important that we get the things that we are doing right before we move on to the next thing.
“Because we value the time people spend with us and for me, it’s about connecting and engaging with people. So all the places that we do in the future will have some attachment to that,” he says.