Considering international travel still looks a little iffy at the moment, we may need to find another alternative to keep the wanderlust needs satiated. Thanks to the marvellous range of gastronomic delights available in Kuala Lumpur (KL), you can escape the borders through your tastebuds. In other words, you don’t need to search around (or probably renew) your passport nor fret about baggage weight to enjoy this trip.
In this particular case, travel to the Land of the Rising Sun by feasting on endless varieties of tasty sushi, donburi (rice bowl dishes), ramen, shabu-shabu, tempura, and so much more. Whether it’s traditionally prepared or reinvented with modern touches, relish in a delightful taste of Japanese cuisine with the help of these 12 Japanese restaurants in KL.
TAKA, The St. Regis Kuala Lumpur
If you’re looking to splurge on refined precision mixed with raw authenticity straight from the shores of Japan, look no further than TAKA. Nestled in The St. Regis Kuala Lumpur, the key highlights here are the handcrafted sushi and premium Ozaki beef that are indeed a taste to behold. Better yet, the fresh ingredients needed for both are flown directly from Tokyo, with the edomae (a form of curing the fish before serving) sushi coming in twice a week from Tokyo’s Toyosu Fish Market.
Created by skilled hands that Takashi Saito personally trained (the youngest sushi chef to be bestowed with three Michelin stars), prepare to be seated at the intimate 16-seater counter for a sensational gastronomic experience. Apart from the excellent omakase courses that include six appetisers, the signature wagyu katsu sando (fried breaded steak sandwich) and sumiyaki Wagyu (grilled steak) are other amazing options.
Nippori Cafe, Damansara Perdana
Housed on the first floor of Empire Damansara, Nippori Cafe evokes an atmosphere of traditional Japanese homes thanks to the tatami seating option. This eatery has quite an extensive menu of both à la carte and set meals stamped with affordable pricing.
From the kaizen bara chirashi (assorted seafood sashimi with sushi rice, avocado, fish roe, and cucumber) to foie gras trout maki hand rolls, patrons can expect a splendid treat of flavours. For the culinary novices or picky eaters who are squirmy about eating raw fish, the fully-cooked oshi saba makimono sushi (rolled sushi with ginger and brown seaweed) is made for you. Additionally, don’t forget to pick up appetisers such as deep-fried mochi cheese, garlic butter edamame, and salmon skin chips!
Aoki Tei, Kota Damansara
As one of the pioneering Japanese all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants in town, Aoki Tei has undoubtedly made a name for itself in promising to deliver on variety packed with flavour… but without hurting your pocket!
Apart from the must-have nigiri sushi (thinly sliced raw or cooked fish on rice), other delights to look forward to are the soft-shell crab hand rolls, tamago maki (omelette roll), shishamo (grilled capelin fish), chicken teppanyaki, yaki gyoza (pan-fried chicken dumpling), kinoko tofu (fried bonito beancurd with mushroom), and ebi ninniku yaki (grilled prawn topped with flying fish roe and garlic mayo).
If that isn’t enough, you’ll be pleased to know that there are hot plates, noodles, and rice dishes to dig into. There’s also free-flow beer included in the beer package on weekends!
Cureé, Jalan Imbi
Tucked away along a row of old shophouses on Jalan Imbi is none other than Cureé (pronounced as ‘ka-ray’ meaning ‘curry’ in Japanese). Their signature Hokkaido-style curry soup, together with the Japanese katsu curry chicken, has been a certified crowd-pleaser that your tastebuds simply can’t miss out on. The former is customisable as diners can choose between three soup bases and the level of spiciness, rice portion size, and type of mains to compliment the curry — from seafood tempura to avocado.
Reminiscent of the childhood classic beverage cheekily known as Milo Dinosaur (iced Milo topped with a heaping pile of Milo powder), sip on their Matcha Biscoff Dinosaur to add a sweet kick to your meal. Besides exuding a vibrant yet laid-back charm thanks to the minimalist and rustic decor, this restaurant is also pet-friendly!
Shin Nihon, Desa Sri Hartamas
Shin Nihon, initially founded in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, transports the art of grilled meat (known in Japan as yakiniku) to our local food scene. As a haven for beef-fanatics, this Japanese restaurant offers an exquisite range of cuts and platters of meat, from Australian beef to premium Wagyu.
Quirkily displayed on either a wooden boat or bridge, the omakase-style beef selection is recommended for first-timers but feel free to taste the beef bone broth ramen, roast beef rice bowl, and Wagyu sushi. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, go for the premium Wagyu tongue with scallions. Either way, be sure to order scrumptious sides of kimchi, namul (edible grass), and sweet potato chips.
Itsumo, Desa Sri Hartamas
Located just a stone’s throw away from its sister eatery of Shin Nihon is the recently renamed Itsumo (formerly known as Tori Doki). As the more easygoing and less upscale relative in the family tree, this quaint establishment has cemented itself as a go-to spot for juicy yakitori (grilled meat on skewers). Some of their must-tries include the signature negima (thighs wrapped with crispy skin and Japanese leek), tsukune (chicken meatballs), and tebasaki (chicken wings).
The daring can go for the offal skewers that consist of separate parts of the liver, gizzard, heart, tail, and soft bone tissue. While you’re there, try out their kushi katsu (deep-fried meat and vegetables) or Osaka-style deep-fried skewers that come with optional seasonings such as pink salt and homemade tartar sauce. Don’t forget to pack in some greens in the form of veggie skewers such as kinshinsai (day-lilies), ginnan (ginkgo nuts), and eringi (king oyster mushrooms).
Tenmasa, Platinum Park KL
Tempura aficionados rejoice as Tenmasa is your new go-to hub for that perfect bite of deep-fried golden goodness. As the very first Japanese tempura omakase bar in KL, revel in an unparalleled tempura experience unlike any other with fresh, seasonally available produce that’s air-flown straight from Japan.
Chow down on classic yet straightforward choices such as anago (saltwater eels), ebi (shrimp), and sweet potato. There’s also the decadent awabi (abalone), Wagyu beef, foie gras, Comté cheese, uni (sea urchin) with Japanese mint, and shirako (fish semen) with caviar. Other than offering both à la carte and set courses, guests can choose to accompany their meal with some hand-picked sake, craft beer, or flutes of bubbly.
The Tokyo Ramen, Lot 10
The Tokyo Ramen is the latest Japanese joint to satisfy those craving the simplicity of a flavourful bowl of ramen. Embodying the philosophy of racial unity it preaches, this noodle soup-centred establishment sets itself apart from competitors by practising a pork- and beef-free policy. By championing the local twist of Malaysian kampung chicken as the meat of choice, everyone can indeed partake in getting an authentic yet imaginative taste of Japan.
Go for the soy-based sho-yu ramen with slow-cooked chicken thigh, egg, seaweed, and spring onion to keep it simple. But if you’re feeling fancy, try the salt-based truffle shio ramen, or go offbeat with the black sesame-based tan tan ramen (a more nutty-flavoured ramen). Throw in a side dish of wasabi edamame and wash it down with some Japanese beer for that old-school coffee shop feel.
Mo-Mo Paradise, Lot 10 & 163 Retail Park
Founded in Tokyo back in 1993, this restaurant has a stellar track record on delivering its primary moneymakers: shabu-shabu – understood as a hot pot feast of thinly-sliced beef and vegetables that’s boiled before being served with dipping sauces. Fun fact: the term arose from the ‘swish swish’ sound made whilst stirring the ingredients in the pot.
Aside from premium grade beef, sakura pork and chicken meatballs are available to be devoured with three choices of soup bases offered, which comprises of shabu-shabu (savoury), kara miso (spicy), and sukiyaki (slightly sweeter). Considering this enormous spread is cooked at the serving table itself, it makes for the perfect interactive experience to enjoy with loved ones.
Gesuto, Taman Tun Dr Ismail
Taking a cue from its hospitable namesake that translates to ‘guest’, Gesuto offers an elegant contemporary Japanese dining experience to its visitors. With an eclectic Japanese-dominated menu that also extracts inspiration from European cuisine, guests can enjoy mouth-watering dishes like the hotateno shiso noodle bowl (with half-shell scallops, shimeji mushrooms, butter sautéed capellini) and the uni chirashi (with sea-urchin, ikura, salmon, hamachi, and mentaiko).
Other fusion options like the succulent duck leg confit and edamame croquette bento box are also worth a try. Either way, wash it down with some sake, shochu, or Japanese-inspired cocktails such as Kyoto Breeze and Kakubin Highball.
Makoto, Desa Sri Hartamas
You probably couldn’t name a local eatery that highlights the much-beloved unagi (freshwater eel) better than Makoto. Talk about striving for authenticity as this establishment utilises the freshest eels flown in from Shizuoka Prefecture, the birthplace of unagi breeding in Japan. Seared to perfection over crimson-hot charcoal flames, expect every part of this slimy creature from The Little Mermaid to be served in a multitude of delectable ways.
With a sustainable practice in motion to prevent wastage, the dishes served include kimo yaki (grilled unagi liver skewers), kimosui (eel liver soup), hone senbei (deep-fried unagi bones), and umaki (eel omelette) along with the best-selling unagi don (a rice bowl with half of an eel). Sprinkle on some sansho (Japanese green pepper) for that extra factor of yum!
Tonkatsu by Ma Maison
If you’re not yet familiar with the dish known as tonkatsu served at Tonkatsu by Ma Maison, all you have to know is that it is breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet accompanied with steaming hot rice and shredded cabbage. Simple, but delicious enough to be creatively served in several ways.
Whipped up with the help of high-quality meat and authentic preparation methods, prepare to treat yourself to true Japanese fare. From the classic rosu-katsu (pork roast cut that comes with a strip of fat) to the Jumbo Ebifurai (basically the Japanese version of surf ‘n’ turf), you’re bound to walk away feeling fully satisfied with smiles all around, regardless of your choice on the menu. Check out their Instagram for a list of outlets near you.