THOUSANDS of glittering lights assail the senses inside the Time Tunnel. The mirrored walls and pillars force you to walk very slowly along the new link between the JW Marriott hotel and the adjacent Starhill Gallery along Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur.
Then, suddenly, you step into sunlight and just ahead, the Feast Village awaits.
True to its name, this new dining heaven certainly offers a big feast ... for your stomach and your eyes! Opened on July 30, the Village comprises 13 restaurants and a bakery, spread across some 46,000 sq ft in the vacated space of the former Tang’s department store on Starhill’s lower ground floor.
Dining out at the Feast Village is a wonderful adventure thanks to the refreshing manner in which the set-up’s designer, Yuhkichi Kawai, has combined contemporary and traditional elements to produce an outstanding ambiance.
Not bad going for the Tokyo-based designer who only had two prerequisites to work with – ethnic and rustic.
YTL Corp Bhd managing director Tan Sri Francis Yeoh had visited Tokyo in Oct 2003 to explore the city’s trendy food scene for inspiration for his upcoming venture. While there, he appointed Kawai as design director and he oversaw the entire Feast Village concept and design. (He was formerly with Japanese design firm Super Potato that created Starhill’s signature Shook! Restaurant.)
“Tan Sri was a visionary with a strong sense of and appreciation for design that works,” says Kawai, 38, who now directs his own company, Design Spirits Tokyo. “The Feast Village was planned as a showcase of international-class restaurants and design concept befitting a city icon.
“It reflects the harmonious multi-cultural society Malaysia enjoys. Just like a real village, there are no physical walls that separate people. The design follows nature’s lines such as mountains and hills and flowing water,” explains Kawai as he walks me through the set-up.
Little lanes wind its way through the space as though it were an actual village. These paths are set with smooth river pebbles, bricks, cut stone, slate, wooden planks and some with turf to project the idea of green grass.
Borders are virtually non-existent as materials used for the public paths are the same as those inside the restaurants.
Not a single wall stands vertical, but each is slanted, transparent, or borderless.
Lebanese restaurant Tarbush opted for wooden screens carved with caravans of camels gracefully trotting past. This unusual wall allows a peek into its elegant and lavish interior.
Fisherman’s Cove – an offshoot of the famous restaurant on the Pangkor Laut Resort – offers impeccable seafood in a restaurant that is almost completely “open” save for a few flimsy fishing boat sails in canvas strung with bamboo. At Pak Loh Chiu Chow Cuisine, just a row of wavy, stripped bamboo separates the inside from out.
Each restaurant has an open-plan kitchen, so the culinary finesse of the nimble cooks are as much on show as the designer food. However, guests needn’t worry about smelling like a kitchen – steam and odours from the stoves drift upward into cleverly concealed hoods surrounded by glass enclosures.
Despite each restaurant’s individual identity, an overall harmony unites the spaces. Kawai explains that he wanted a look that has a “long life span” rather than modern designs that needed to be upgraded every few years.
“We have created different levels of experiences for visitors,” explains Kawai. “The Time Tunnel is an instant attraction, but the restaurants offer a depth of discovery (because they each have) plenty of detail.”
Like any watering hole, the Village Bar is the communal point in the set-up. Gorgeous jewel-coloured pendant lamps dangle from the ceiling in varying heights, lighting up the pillars stacked with thousands of translucent recycled glass bottles. The bar stools’ elegant leopard and cheetah prints add contrast to a row of Philippe Starck’s Louis V Ghost Chairs.
This space is completely wall-less except for a huge glass frame strung across one of the five bars. The counters are angled to allow guests to communicate with other patrons and staff.
“A bar is, after all, a place where people can meet, mingle and perhaps, find the right partner one lucky day!” jests Kawai.
At the Fisherman’s Cove, bamboo and a rustic fisherman’s boathouse lend to the rustic mood. On the restaurant’s upper floor, guests can enjoy more intimacy in tiny booths resembling fishing sheds, shielded by woven mats under the warm glow of lamps tucked inside bamboo flutes or cages of lashed cane.
(Incidentally, you’ll notice that the mezzanine floor above this restaurant is suspended in such a clever way that you’ll marvel at its engineering feat!)
In contrast, the Pak Loh Chiu Chow Restaurant is resplendent with Oriental flavour – there is plenty of striking gold, green and red throughout the restaurant. Its tables – there is a particularly unique one crafted from a brass-studded wooden door – are tucked behind wire mesh or an unusual see-through screen of felt which has cut-outs of dragons on clouds, inspired by the Chinese art of paper-cutting.
Jim Thompson’s first restaurant, MyThai, has silk-swathed booths with scattered cushions that offer authenticity as well as a wonderfully romantic mood.
Another outlet to note is the Luk Yu Tea House, a cleverly carved out space under the elevator. First impressions certainly count here, as the outlet is encased in magnificent lattice walls which have panels featuring the rich tribal patterns of China in metal, copper, wood, stained glass and antique ceramic tiles.
And after all that eating and drinking in utmost style, a trip to the loo is definitely recommended – even if it is just to see what wonder lies behind the closed doors!
The Feast Village is open from noon till 1am daily. For more information, visit www.starhillgallery. com. Restaurants in the Feast Village are: Fisherman’s Cove, Jake’s Charbroil Steak, Pak Loh Chiu Chow,The Bakery Moments, Tarbush, Koryo-Won, Luk Yu Tea House, MyThai, Vansh, Lecka-Lecka, Shook!, Sentidos Tapas, and Enak.