Barat is a place of deep-rooted philosophies and progressive shoots. Its roots extend to The Ganga Cafe, its neighbour on Lorong Kurau. Already firmly established for its wholesome Indian vegetarian cuisine, it is also owned by Barat founders Meeta and Prabodh Sheth; Barat is their newer vegetarian lifestyle restaurant facing firmly towards the Mediterranean region for flavour inspiration.
Barat can also trace its origins to executive chef Lingesh Dimitrus Joseph’s bold decision a decade ago, when he left a comfortable job as a pharmaceutical sales rep to become a farmer. With a friend, he leased a small plot of land in Rompin, Pahang and worked the land.
“We raised cows and goats, grew our own vegetables,” says Lingesh, 33. Out of his passion for going right to the source of his food, a new love budded – crafting cuisine from the produce he grew/raised. His path took another turn, and he became a chef.
And finally, Barat finds its roots in the Janda Baik farmers who supply the vegetables for its eggless kitchen, in the local cheesemaker who makes not only cheddar and cream cheese from local milk, but small amounts of vegan cheese for Lingesh – “Because no one should have to go without cheese!” he says.
Lingesh, Meeta and Prabodh have a rare synergy that seems effortless, because they are all committed to the same forward-thinking vision – eating as an experience that is sustainable, mindful, holistic and, of course, delicious. A vegetarian experience that provides a choice beyond the incidental, traditional Chinese or Indian or a salad bar – and which supports responsible farming practices.
The space which houses such a philosophy is reflective of it – Irish designer Tony Heneberry, (Prabodh’s friend and a vegetarian himself) helped to create an airy space where natural light pools and raw bricks keep things cool.
Recycled railway wood floors the restaurant, the charming, old-fashioned French doors are up-cycled and many fittings and fixtures were fashioned from metal leftover from the building renovation.
A bright mural from Indonesian artist Ines Katamso sprawls breezily across the main wall, encapsulating Barat as a “place of union”, according to Lingesh.
Upstairs, a huge, vibrant orange and green painting by Heneberry welcomes those who want to preface (or postface) dinner with drinks at the bar. The printed menu lists standards; it’s the off-menu specials, built around an ingredient or a preference, that Lingesh thinks will be the main draw. Here too, local produce is celebrated – herbs or spices, teas infused with top-shelf liquors. A tapas menu is also available.
From Barat’s kitchen come thoughtfully-fashioned dishes that celebrate and emphasise organic produce, 80% of it local. There is a significant elevation of flavour and texture in organic vegetables, says Lingesh. The Mediterranean focus means that he can draw on all the countries in that region for inspiration, giving him a wide culinary palette.
The approach is natural. No mock meats or MSG will cross the kitchen threshold – why would there be such a need, when there is so much flavour in fresh, organic vegetables, when a treasure chest of spices lies right at the fingertips?
Some dairy is used in the restaurant, but aware of the varying permutations of vegetarianism, Lingesh is happy to customise according to need – with at least a day’s notice.
An a la carte menu is available, with prices ranging from RM13.90 to RM33.90 – the latter for mains, which are meant for sharing.
“We want our food to be accessible, which is reflected in our pricing,” says Lingesh. “However, there is often an assumption that vegetarian food must be cheap, which isn’t the case.”
For first-time (dinner) diners, the degustation menu, at RM125 per diner, is a good way to get to Barat’s green (red-yellow-purple) heart.
It’s composed of 11 courses, but Barat’s degustation is a lot like life – full of variation. Some servings are small but individual, others are bite-sized jewel box renditions, several creations to a plate.
We start the journey with bread baked in-house, with apple cider and red wine vinaigrette, and pumpkin soup, spiced with nubbins of air-dried ginger – the fragrant, warming heat of ginger is a perfect complement, but a touch less salt would allow the sweetness of the pumpkin to shine.
A salad of arugula, chard and basil comes with a nutty-sweet sesame dressing and juicy dragon fruit. It illustrates the deceptive simplicity of Barat’s approach – the addition of gently dehydrated blueberries and battered mandarin orange segments, that burst to reveal warm citrus juice, adds interest and takes it beyond a basic salad.
A plate of small things follows: patatas bravas, topped with flaming rosemary leaves and seasoned with Turkish chilli and rosemary flakes and served with a sauce made from red wine and black, Romano and local tomatoes; a sweet, grilled pepper stuffed with cream cheese, with just a hint of blue; a roasted Romano tomato with sweet prunes, cranberries and almond slivers. Tiny bites, full of flavour and character.
A serving of vermicelli with thin zucchini streamers, umami-rich mushrooms and smoky-bitter grilled lemon proves a definite hit – and not just with me. The lady at the next table ordered this on her first visit, and returned for a repeat performance – the reprise gets her seal of approval for consistency. The zucchini is cooked just right, so that it has a buttery lusciousness but retains some crunch, and the vermicelli has bite. The lemon adds a palate-cleansing combination of citrus tang and gentle bitterness.
Tiny balls of fried cheese – cream, goat, cheddar – don’t sound earth-shaking, but coupled with an endive boat holding berries spiked with a rose presse, it proves very memorable indeed. And again, a reminder of Lingesh’s thoughtful approach to food.
The cheese balls are pure comfort food, crisp exterior giving way to melting cheese, balanced with a spiced apricot-pineapple jam. The bitter Belgian endive is eaten in one mouthful after, thoroughly and gently cleansing the palate; there’s a sense of going full circle in this plate.
A trio of pestos shows up – a slice of sweet kyuri topped with tangy sun-dried tomato pesto, battered aubergine with a pesto made with sweet and Thai basil leaves, sans cheese (smooth and lusciously herbaceous), and a sweet red pepper pesto on a crisp, eggless wafer. A curve of lemon and mint sauce connects them.
Then, a tiny tian of spiced couscous with sunflower seeds, a grilled asparagus spear, baby heirloom carrots and tangy-sweet pomegranate dressing. The couscous is drier than usual – which I like – rich in flavour and with a toasty character.
This is followed with a shot of wonderfully fresh watermelon gazpacho, with a kyuri stirrer and edible flowers. Playing palate cleanser, this would also find a welcome home at the bar, perhaps with a shot of vodka.
The last savoury course is a creamy pistachio “carbonara”, made with roasted pistachio oil and sprinkled with crushed nuts and sun-dried tomato slivers. The result is a sweet, creamy sauce tempered with the deeply-flavoured, tangy tomatoes. It may raise the eyebrows of a few carbonara purists, but should be enjoyed for what it is – a clever culinary riff, not just a vegetarian version of something.
Finally, a plate of small sweets – an intensely chocolatey brownie, salted caramel ice cream, soursop sorbet and peach segments poached in brandy. “This dessert selection changes every couple of days, as we experiment in the kitchen,” says Lingesh.
It’s a meal that leaves you satiated, but not overwhelmed.
The last word though, is also the first. I initially heard about Barat from a determined carnivore of a friend – she raved about the food here. Considering that she sees most vegetable dishes as an annoying waste of time and stomach space, that was enough to pique interest. “You must try it,” she said. “Trust me.”
Such an endorsement is exactly reflective of what the people behind Barat are trying to do – create a memorable dining experience which happens to be vegetarian.
17 Lorong Kurau
Tel: 010-2882 654
Open Mondays to Saturdays, 11.30am to 2.30pm and 6.30pm to 10.30pm. Closed on Sundays.