Charcoal-grilled delights at this Bangsar eatery

The bebek (smoked duck) is utterly delightful from start to finish. — Photos: ABIRAMI DURAI/The Star

For many chefs, the ultimate goal is typically always the same: open a restaurant. But for Nurliyana Rusli, this was most definitely not the plan. After returning to Malaysia from Australia – where she had been working with chef Michael Cole to open his first restaurant Moke in Melbourne – Liyana (as she is better known) became a private chef instead.

“I didn’t feel like I wanted to pursue the restaurant path anymore. And by chance, I saw chef Wan’s Instagram post about his friend who was looking for a private chef. I applied and got the job and became a private chef for Malaysian clients,” she says.

Concurrently, Liyana’s friends started asking her to cater gut-friendly meals for them on a daily basis. Soon, orders became so overwhelming that she could no longer operate out of her home kitchen.

Liyana has discovered a recipe for success with Arang.Liyana has discovered a recipe for success with Arang.

So she thought about opening a cloud kitchen to expand her catering business. But by some twist of fate, she found a space in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur that she fell in love with. One thing led to another and that is how she ended up opening Arang, her very first restaurant.

“From the beginning, I knew that owning and running a restaurant is difficult and to sustain and make a profit is also another challenge. I never in my life thought I wanted to open a restaurant, it was never an aim of mine. I just wanted to expand my catering business.

“So this was accidental and the opportunity presented itself and I thought if I don’t take it now – considering my age (she’s only 35!) – if I wanted to start a family, it would be difficult to set up a restaurant later in life,” she says.

Arang is a lovely, sun-dappled space focused around a horseshoe-shaped industrial table set around an open kitchen. There are also tables outside that highlight a cornucopia of pretty foliage. In the open kitchen, a charcoal-fuelled fire takes centre stage and you’ll see Liyana and her team stoking the fire and placing meat, vegetables and even desserts on it at frequent intervals.

Liyana says having a charcoal-fired concept was a foregone conclusion as she loves the taste of food cooked using this method.

“The main concept is going back to basics, hence the charcoal grill, so it’s just fire. With fire, you can cook everything. And the food is very much influenced by my Javanese background and my dad’s cooking which I grew up with,” she says.

To begin a meal at Arang, look at trying the value-for-money Tasting Menu (RM100). The meal starts with the soy nori peanut and truffle kombu focaccia. The peanuts are marinated in seaweed, paprika and herbs and grilled twice. This is topped with a seaweed infused focaccia bread that Liyana learnt to make during the pandemic.

The nuts are really tasty and have a crispness underscored by smoky undertones. This is accentuated by the bread which has a crusty outer layer and a soft doughy interior, all drawn together by the rich umami notes of the seaweed plied in every fibre and morsel of the bread. This makes for an exotic – and very good – opener to the meal.

Corn ribs and Javanese-style chicken wings are one of the highlights of the tasting menu.Corn ribs and Javanese-style chicken wings are one of the highlights of the tasting menu.

Up next, you will be presented with corn ribs with truffle kombu butter and parmesan cheese. The corn is a little difficult to handle and eat but so worth the excavation project as each tiny little stud is dotted with intoxicatingly opulent notes from the butter and cheese in this amalgamation.

The corn is paired with chicken wings and drummets, with a smoked Sichuan kaffir lime leaf salt. The chicken is marinated in Javanese-style herbs and spices with a killer sambal belacan on the side, the recipe for which Liyana imbibed from her father.

The poultry is fantastic – seared with a slight char on the outside and tender and succulent inside. The Javanese influences are light and nuanced, with slight tropical notes permeating the chook. The sambal belacan is a true, riotous star with a fiery, fierce underbelly.

For the mains on your tasting menu, you can opt for either the blue nasi lemak with soy kantan organic chicken and broths or the smoked bebek (duck) with urap salad, soy jus and sambal matah.

The nasi lemak is a slightly different take on a national classic. — ARANG RESTAURANTThe nasi lemak is a slightly different take on a national classic. — ARANG RESTAURANT

Both are deserving of your time and attention, so if you’re here with a dinner companion, do try one of each. The blue nasi lemak is essentially rice tinged with blue pea flower but without the addition of coconut milk, so it isn’t quite as dense (and in that token, not quite as addictive) as the traditional version.

This however makes for a good complement to the soy kantan chicken which is grilled to perfection and features a lightly spicy, smoky skin that segues into a juicy (oh-so-juicy) flesh inside.

Perhaps the surprising hero of this dish is the canister of broth that accompanies it. Roughly reminiscent of the Indian tamarind-based rasam, this hot, hot broth is soothing and sating and riddled with intoxicatingly nose-tickling peppery nuances.

On a rainy day (and we’ve been having a never-ending supply of those of late) this is a sure-fire soul-pleaser.

The smoked bebek meanwhile is superlative – the duck is smoked to perfection and contrasts well with the tender, succulent meat inside. The urap salad makes for a great tropical side while the sambal matah and soy jus offer a dynamic combination to pair with your meat.

End your tasting menu with either the coconut yoghurt ice-cream with lemon mint granita or the pandan marshmallow with kantan sugar and aloe vera ginger. The former is a smooth, creamy operator with overt (and very pleasurable) tangy notes from the yoghurt in the mixture.

A homemade pandan marshmallow is the central feature of this delightful dessert. — ABIRAMI DURAI/The StarA homemade pandan marshmallow is the central feature of this delightful dessert. — ABIRAMI DURAI/The Star

The granita has a citrusy counterpoint to this cold, cold pleasure.

The marshmallow meanwhile trawls through the local culinary landscape and delivers a soft, pillowy concoction with a gorgeous torched exterior saturated in rich pandan flavours. These vanilla- esque flavours are offset by the kantan sugar and aloe very ginger, which offer sharpness and a herbaceous veneer that countenance this dessert wonderfully.

A meal at Arang gives diners a clear view of Liyana’s heritage and the fertile workings of her mind. Each dish is well constructed and designed with thought, with flavour at its epicentre. It is little wonder then that since she opened her little eatery, Liyana has been besieged with offers from investors looking to take her restaurant to a whole new level.

A central interior aspect of the kitchen is the horseshoe shaped table that is set around an open kitchen. — ALL IS AMAZINGA central interior aspect of the kitchen is the horseshoe shaped table that is set around an open kitchen. — ALL IS AMAZING

“At the moment, I am still a little bit cautious about taking someone else’s money and investing it to grow the business. But at the back of my mind, I have always wanted to open another Arang in Penang, because that is where I was born and I think it would be interesting to open there. So we’ll see how it goes,” she says smiling.

Arang Restaurant

Level C2, Kapas Heights Condominium

Jalan Kapas, Bangsar

59100 Kuala Lumpur

Tel: 019-947 0078

Opening times:

Monday to Saturday (noon to 3pm and 6pm to 10pm); Sunday (noon to 3pm and 5pm to 9pm)

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