Sandwiched in the middle of a row of restaurants and bars along KL’s Jalan Mesui is Palilos Yakitori Bar. The eatery was once perched one floor above sister restaurant Pinchos along the densely-trafficked Changkat Bukit Bintang stretch, but moved a month ago to a quieter road in the same area, literally the equivalent of a peaceful suburb compared to the original location.
Through this physical move, the eatery’s core ethos has remained the same – it still serves traditional Japanese charcoal-grilled yakitori fare, although the setting is now distinctly more pleasant, with a large tree and plants scattered throughout the outdoor dining area. The menu has also been expanded slightly, with about 20% to 30% new additions, including more grilled vegetable options.
“Before, business was okay but when you’re on a first floor shoplot along Changkat Bukit Bintang, it can be very noisy. So the food scene was not really happening, because people tend to eat food in quieter locations. So for us, the opportunity to come here was great, because this is the perfect location,” says restaurant owner Robert Solanes.
Solanes is a Spanish native who came to Malaysia nearly two decades ago as part of the Formula One catering team. Having met and fallen in love with his Malaysian wife Shirley Khoo, he stayed on and the two now run Pinchos and Palilos together, with the help of Khoo’s brother Simon.
With Palilos, Solanes and his team have stuck to the original yakitori style of cooking skewered meat on a charcoal fire. The only difference here is the availability of Spanish ingredients like Iberico pork and octopus.
“Actually, we didn’t invent anything. The grilling – the technique is Japanese, so we’ve mastered how to grill it, skewer it and salt it. So the technique is there, but I’m using Spanish ingredients like Iberico, octopus and truffles,” says Solanes.
Start your yakitori journey with the chicken wing skewer (RM12). Here, succulent chicken wings are imbued with a light smokiness that proves extremely endearing. From the poultry family, you could also opt for the chicken skin (RM7) which as its name implies, showcases crispy chicken skin with a little bit of fat still lingering under each perfectly crackly piece. The resulting concoction is unctuously good, the sort of blissful food that signals the beginning of a lethal addiction.
For a more substantial meal, indulge in the grilled Iberico pork selection (RM85). Here, you’ll discover 300gm of sliced pork sourced from the collar (part of the shoulder) and pluma (the area just behind the neck). The collar is tender with meaty overtures while the pluma is very malleable with a melt-in-the-mouth consistency, which means you’ll experience a porcine textural odyssey of sorts with this meal.
Next up, try the Spanish octopus pimenton paprika (RM85 for a whole leg). The octopus has been grilled beautifully so its outer skin is blistered with char spots while its inner core remains sublimely tender, limbre and silken soft. If you have a soft spot for cephalopods, you’ll adore this grilled rendition.
The patatas bravas (RM16) is a potato dish typical in most Spanish tapas joints and at Palilos, it is served with mentaiko mayonnaise. It’s a simple, uncomplicated dish that would typically tick all the right boxes in the comfort food category, except that in this iteration, the potatoes could do with more seasoning.
The grilled avocado (RM8) consists of a single avocado with thick, creamy flesh and a sultry air about it (probably from the smokiness emanating from the skin). Some soy sauce in the hollow of the fruit and a dollop of wasabi on the side also serve to accentuate the dish, but it is essentially a slightly more elevated version of a raw, unvarnished avocado.
The ox tongue stew (RM23) meanwhile, offers pleasure on every count. The rich, heady stew is full-bodied and very sumptuous and languorously coats the tender ox tongue with all its sublime goodness. You’ll luxuriate in the opulence of this meal, which soothes and sates in equal measure and leaves a lingering resonance in its wake.
End your meal at Palilos with a touch of something sweet, like the chocolate mousse (RM29) which is enhanced with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil. The mousse has rich chocolatey undertones and is silken soft and very, very smooth. The sea salt and olive oil act as necessary diversions, cutting through the richness of the chocolate, much like a diver sluicing through water.
Solanes says although Palilos has proven popular, he is is no rush to embark on a similar project anytime soon as the level of dedication required is simply too high – even for a single outlet. Instead, he is content to spread the yakitori love to guests at his restaurants.
“Yakitori is an explosion of flavours – it’s a single stick that can migrate from one texture to another. One piece of meat might have fattiness, the other may be more meaty – either way, it’s like a festival of food. You cannot come here if you’re on a diet, because it’s about treating yourself to a nice, meaty dinner full of smokiness and saltiness with drinks and friends,” he says.
Palilos Yakitori Bar
23, Jalan Mesui
50200 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 016-472 3635
Open Monday to Thursday: 5.30pm to 1am; Friday to Saturday: 5.30pm to 2am