Pickling and fermentation are the highlight at quaint new eatery Pickle Dining

At Pickle, Thorlby looks at incorporating pickling and fermentation in his dishes. To do this, he collected recipes from as many people as he could. — Pickle Dining

If you’re angling after a bit of a treasure hunt, Pickle Dining will be right up your alley. The restaurant is hidden in an alleyway right next to Rex KL in Kuala Lumpur.

At the moment, there isn’t a sign, although if your eyesight is good, you’ll spot the name of the restaurant on the door. Otherwise – if you’re a little elderly like me – you’ll walk past it numerous times without realising it’s right in front of you!

Once you eventually locate it, you’ll walk up the stairs to a cosy little space (originally a pre-war shoplot) interspersed with plenty of foliage, a feature wall stocked with bottles of fermented and pickled goodies and an open kitchen that is the centrepiece of the eatery.

The general vibe here is of a chic Parisian apartment alive with a general “drunk on life” sort of feeling. The music selection traverses the globe and this adds to the overall allure of the space.

At the helm of the eatery is chef-owner Danial Thorlby, who has returned from stints working in glamorous locales like London, Paris and New York to set his culinary imprint in his homeland.

Recycled bottles are filled with pickled and fermented ingredients based on recipes Thorlby has picked up from asking numerous people around him. — Pickle DiningRecycled bottles are filled with pickled and fermented ingredients based on recipes Thorlby has picked up from asking numerous people around him. — Pickle Dining

“When I was 17, I was at this point where I had to decide what I was going to do. And it was either become a chef or an archaeologist. Very different, I know.

“But I was always interested in why we exist, how we got here and how we evolve. And I like cooking because it’s such a humble profession – everyone needs to eat,” he says.

Cooking won that battle in Thorlby’s mind and he spent the new few years working all over the world. He returned to Malaysia during the Covid-19 pandemic and worked with a restaurant group. When the time came for him to set out on his own, he knew he wanted an eatery with sustainability at its heart.

“There’s a big awareness now about chefs playing their part in sustainability. And it’s such a big industry, and it has to start somewhere. I felt really strongly about being part of the change,” he says.

Another thing Thorlby is very passionate about is pickling and fermentation, which typically help prolong the shelf life of ingredients, thus drastically reducing wastage.

The best duck in Kuala Lumpur? This dish is certainly a serious contender for the title. — ABIRAMI DURAI/The StarThe best duck in Kuala Lumpur? This dish is certainly a serious contender for the title. — ABIRAMI DURAI/The Star

“There’s so many ways of pickling, so many different cultures that pickle around the world. How do I choose one? I started off with talking to people around me, families around me, and even my staff and I would ask them ‘Hey, does your mum pickle?’ I was trying to get their recipes so that the chefs and the staff have a connection to the restaurant.

“That’s how I started to find all these pickle recipes that are a bit unknown. And then after that, we experimented by adding flavours to it. We start off with a basic pickle – vinegar, sugar, and water – and then we elevate it. We put vanilla or yuzu in it. We put things that will change the complexity of that single pickle.

“So yeah, it seems easy, but there are so many factors like temperature, light and even the type of container you use. Some people like it sourer, some people like it more sweet. Part of my job every day is to just taste everything,” he says.

The meals at Pickle reflect Thorlby’s ethos and world views and are designed for sharing, so there are options for tasting menus for two people, priced at RM180 per person (RM160 for the vegetarian option) and individual a la carte selections. Portions are pretty generous for the tasting menu, so you’ll leave feeling quite stuffed.

To begin, there is the Sunchoke Espuma with Pear Compote, a sumptuously rich offering that highlights the earthy qualities of the sunchoke with the pear compote offering a tart counterpoint that sluices through the richness. The soy sauce at the base of the dish adds a touch of saltiness to the meal that brings this offering to a euphoric crescendo.

The beef is really, truly excellent. — Photos: ABIRAMI DURAI/The StarThe beef is really, truly excellent. — Photos: ABIRAMI DURAI/The Star

Up next, indulge in the Mangrove Jack Ceviche with Coconut Nuoc Cham which – as its name implies – features thinly sliced fish against a Vietnamese dipping sauce enhanced with coconut alongside pickled radish, daikon and lime leaf oil.

This is a fresh, effervescent offering with light, clean flavours, a tinge of acidity from the pickled radish and a hint of richness from the coconut. Nothing is too overwhelming or conversely, too underwhelming – it all fits together like that silent, salient moment when the final piece of a puzzle has been assembled.

The Charred Pickled Carrot with Maple Citrus Reduction is made up of carrots that have been pickled and then grilled over the fire with a maple reduction and chopped hazelnuts scattered atop. The carrots are very tart – which is actually really nice – especially if you enjoy lip-puckering culinary goodies but the only downside is that they’re a tad hard, which means a fair amount of work and time spent chomping on them.

The story continues with yet more vegetable offerings in the form of the Carentan Heirloom Leek with Horseradish Remoulade, which features leeks that are grilled and have a slight char but retain both tenderness as well as pliancy and are slathered in a horseradish remoulade that offers hints of pungency and potency that contrast well with the vegetal qualities of the leek. It’s not something you might think you’ll enjoy but like so many of Thorlby’s offerings, surprises await.

For more meaty offerings, definitely, definitely indulge in the Grilled Sirloin with Black Garlic Aioli. Most of the meat and seafood at the restaurant are dry-aged in-house to give them an edge, and here, the beef has been dry-aged for three weeks. Thorlby serves this alongside his “favourite sauce” which is made up of garlic that is left to ferment and turns black naturally through the fermentation process. The garlic is then used to make an aioli.

Oh my Lord, this is the stuff dreams are made of! The beef is sublime – a perfectly crusted, charred surface lends itself to meat that is pink in the middle and melt-in-the-mouth tender. The black garlic aioli adds a hint of tang and verve to the beef, pepping it with a two-dimensional juxtaposition that takes it to a whole new level. If you’re after an unforgettable meal, this is just the ticket.

The sunchoke espuma is revelatory from start to finish.The sunchoke espuma is revelatory from start to finish.

You’ll probably think there’s little that can top the beef, but there’s more to come if you order the Aged Bidor Duck with Tamarind Jus (RM80). A limited item on the menu, the duck is dry-aged for four weeks and is just incredible. It might actually be one of the best duck dishes in the Klang Valley – the skin is perfectly crispy and meat fabulously succulent and silken soft.

The pickled snakefruit served on the side also makes for a great sidekick in terms of cutting through the richness of the meat. This is one of those meals that is the gastronomic equivalent of every single one of your dreams coming true all at once.

End your meal with something sweet in the form of the Milk Chocolate Mousse with Olive Oil. This is a simple offering that ticks all those requisite high notes. The mousse is velvety smooth and very chocolatey and the brittle atop proffers a textural contrast and some crunch. It is a satisfying end to a hugely satisfying meal.

Moving forward, Thorlby has plans to turn the ground floor space into a bar and the top floor into an event space. Both are already in the works and will soon be up and running.

“You know, Pickle Dining will evolve, it will keep changing. And just as much as it’s a learning sequence for me, it’s a learning sequence for my team, and the flavours keep getting better and better every month, and we’re going to be a bit more – I don’t want to say experimental – but a bit more courageous with our pairing of flavours next time around,” says Thorlby.

Pickle Dining

23, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock

50000 Kuala Lumpur

Tel: 014 797 7631

Open Thursday to Monday: 6.30pm to 11.30pm

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