Opulently detailed and rife with character, Mr Chew’s Chino Latino Bar launches into a gorgeous shock and awe dominance of the senses … from the minute the lift doors swish open onto Wolo Hotel’s duplex penthouse in Bukit Bintang.
Unfurling before you, a 360° tunnel of careful styling.
There’s a plush carpet of carmine and rose, on which sits a dramatically imposing and very vintage Oriental drum.
Flanking these, boldly Prussian blue, Art Deco glass doors, with iridescent stickers evoking pink and blue dragonfly wings, turn the classic into the contemporary.
Incandescent light tubes pay tongue-in-cheek homage to a chandelier.
And a harmonious cacophony of lines – from the geometric designs of the metal leading on the doors to the length of the beams running along the individual upper-floor balconies – serve to draw you in to the main dining area … or to disappear into one of the smaller, more intimate lounges flanking the entrance hall.
The devil dances in these details – and this is just in the entrance hall.
Thought has been put into every aspect, every corner, each nook – and branching off and upward from the soaring, double-height main dining space and bar, Mr Chew’s is a carefully-curated collection of nooks.
And while it oozes style in spades, and drips with decadence, Mr Chew’s also has liberal lashes of sharp, tongue-in-cheek humour – including an elegantly-curved bathtub now on duty as an over-sized Champagne ice bucket, and origami chopstick rests you can fold yourself. That’s the expected combination for a place owned by Christian Bauer and Eddie Chew (yes, Mr Chew himself).
They are, after all, the duo that first rendered Frangipani such a bastion of cool for a decade in the early 2000s, and then set their sights on delivering altitude with attitude with the Troika Sky Dining enclave.
“The personality of this place is very much Eddie’s,” said Bauer. “A bit crazy! Someone who loves to party, and loves to travel. He wants his Asian flavours, and he wants his cocktails. And he has a lot of friends ….”
“It took us two years from the first moment we set eyes on the space, with about four months of renovation,” he said. These included minor structural changes – changing where doors opened, or not – but Bauer and Chew had fallen in love with the space and there were many things they wanted to retain, including the aforementioned doors.
“There was a too-large number of bathrooms though, and a sauna and steam room – which is now possibly the most elegant store room in the world, complete with white marble walls and floor!” said co-owner Bauer.
Mr Chew’s has been one of the most Instagrammed spaces in the city since its May opening, and I’m willing to put money on every single poster featuring that famous painting at some point – the cheeky riff on one of the famous portraits of the Empress Dowager Cixi, that glares imposingly from above the main bar.
She remains unsmiling in Mr Chew’s boldly dramatic, colour-saturated rendition – but she’s also sporting a fruity, Carmen Miranda-flavoured hat and solemnly lifting a taco chip … backed by a decidedly tropical jungle, and fronted by an also-solemn flamingo.
“It’s a bit Empress Dowager meets Frida Kahlo,” said Chew; the iconic Mexican artist evokes the Latin American spirit, but Chew and Bauer wanted something with a fresher take. The five-metre high painting was designed by Seow Yee Loh, and painted by Christophe Turchi.
Creating corners and cocoons
You know how some spaces draw you in, how some chairs swallow you with welcome, and become little temporary homes for a time? When it comes to clever seating arrangements, in restaurants and bars especially, there are no accidents.
“For one thing, we created corners wherever we could,” said Chew. “We don’t like to sit with our backs to open spaces, so we have rattan dividers on the plush banquettes in the main area that come up almost to your ears!”
The combination of cream rattan and plush navy upholstery is another play on the East-West notions redolent throughout Mr Chew’s. “Rattan tends to evoke colonial Asia for us, and it has a lightness that brightened the space,” said Chew.
Upstairs in the balcony lounge areas, high-backed armchairs in the same materials also play their part in creating a space intimate enough for conversation – but open enough for mingling, seeing and being seen.
There are also larger tables that are more open, for those who don’t mind others watching their backs. Mr Chew’s is such an eclectic, diverse space that it’s easy to find a corner that personally appeals.
Just off the main dining area, tucked next to the staircase that leads to another, smaller bar upstairs, the dessert bar is cradled in robin’s egg blue panelling.
The fine sheen of a brushed metal counter takes up most of the space, flanked by Kartell chairs upholstered in ab-fab Christian Lacroix fabric – at first sight, I wanted to violently mug those chairs and cart some fabric off for a dress.
This is the space where diners can pull up a (fabulous) chair and watch the chefs prepare their six-course dessert degustations. Want to up the ante? Add a tea or cocktail pairing.
Mr Chew says: eat up (and drink!)
“Mr Chew says” is a little running joke here … and his suggestions should be welcomed by all bon vivants.
Mr Chew’s menu is overseen by executive chef James Thong and pastry chef Ivan Ong, and draws more than a little inspiration from Chew’s own family recipes – and again, his personality and love for globe-trotting.
“Imagine: even though he’s a citizen of the world, he still wants his Asian flavours,” said Bauer. That doesn’t mean dishes that are necessarily recognisably Asian in form, but are laced with flavours culled from the continent; and then there’s the indomitable spirit of Latin American cuisine.
Marry the two, and you’ll get dishes like the Nori Tacos, with each seaweed sheet tempura-battered and sandwiching fresh, succulent salmon belly sashimi and roe, sushi rice and tobiko mayo; betel leaf bites with five-spice duck, melting foie gras, hazelnuts and Shaoxing rice wine and stewed cherry sauce; or dumplings stuffed with tiger prawns and water chestnuts, in a curry vinaigrette.
“That dumpling is quite Chinese to begin with, but add the curry vinaigrette and it changes its identity completely,” said Chew.
And at the dessert bar, the bite-sized Dessert Tacos are quite a favourite, running the gamut of sweetness from pomelo and mango to strawberry to hazelnut and chocolate.
The liquids menu is equally intriguing, with a wide variety of wines and Champagnes, plus flavours like shiso, tonka bean and Japanese plum wine providing a twist in the cock-tales: Vodka is infused with fragrant rice; five-spice powder is turned into a syrup. And Mr Chew’s ‘Take-Away’ G&T is providing the Empress Dowager with some serious competition in the Most Photographed category. Concocted from Opihr Oriental Spice Gin – an earthy, citrusy gin with soft, warm cumin and cardamom notes – pink pepper and guava and Three Cents Aegean tonic water, it’s served in a specially-made take-away box, with chopsticks to fish the fruit out.
“We find Asian flavours very comforting, and we eat a lot of street food in the daytime. But for dinner, we would like those flavours to take on more sophistication,” said Chew.
“For us, it’s all about familiar flavours in unexpected combinations.”
Mr Chew has spoken.
Mr Chew’s Chino Latino Bar is at The Penthouse, Wolo Hotel, corner of Jalan Bukit Bintang and Jalan Sultan Ismail, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur (Tel: 03-4065 0168; reservations are definitely recommended, especially on weekends).