I have always been intrigued by and wanted to try this award winning restaurant in KL that I have heard so much of – ALIYAA – touted to be the best restaurant in KL offering Sri Lankan cuisine.
But what does a mad chinaman know about South Asia cuisine? Well not that much admittedly but a little more than average.
Some of you Singaporeans who are more adventurous gastronomic wise may have heard or even tried the home cooking by this Indian lady who cooks at her home in Spottiswoode Park. Hordes of well informed white shirted executives would be found cramped around her dinner table with sleeves rolled up slurping up the fiery curries with gusto, sweated brows dripping over lunch.
I was a regular purveyor of this lunch club for a good part of my working life.
Then there was Captain Kuttan’s home cooking at One Tree Hill. Distinguished Bankers, Lawyers, Judges, C suite executives and the like could be found at this lunch club which offered the most delectable home cooked malayalee dishes, devouring his delicious green chilli chicken, and happily banging on Tulang (mutton bones) to dislodge and get to the soft gelatinous marrow inside.
Those were happy memories.
Captain Kuttan’s Son Sanjay and I were university mates and he and his lovely wife Kuan counts as one of my closest friends to date. So I have been more than blessed with their home cooking at endless dinner parties and regular binges where the best Indian food is served.
By a happy coincidence, all the guys I was closest to during hostel days in university were Malayalees, so this chinaman was indoctrinated with their culture, likes and dislikes, their Onam celebrations, their whiskey celebrations (let’s not kid ourselves onam was just an excuse) and of course their food.
I hung out with them so much that I was dubbed an honorary mama (a colloquial term we use in singapore for people of the Indian descent) one day and studiously renamed RajaLingam (I would explain the name they bestowed on me but this is a family channel – it means big ****), Son of Ong Wan Lye (my father’s name) in a an elaborate and solemn ceremony involving quizzes (most of it all alcohol related to determine wisdom and correct priorities in life), blindfolded beer drinking contests (to ascertain fitness, fortitude and strength of character), all of which of course culminated and nicely led to more whiskey drinking.
So I am no stranger to good Indian food although I can’t profess to be in any way discerning or educated or anything other than a diehard fan of the cuisine.
But I digress.
ALIYAA was nestled in this row of bars and restaurants in the hip neighbourhood of Plaza Damansara.
Wait – where are my priorities?
Before dinner, our dinner party had a few whiskey sours at The Sticky Wicket, a delightfully quaint pub that is heaven for a cricket mad fan wanting to quaff good beers and nice cocktails and nibble on delicious pub food, surrounded by Cricket paraphernalia and blazing screens showing Cricket games and programs.
This was to honour the age old mantra – Indians never eat on an empty stomach. The system has to be well oiled (preferably with whiskey although any alcohol could be substituted) before letting any food in.
After a few drinks, we trooped over to ALIYAA which was just a few doors away.
The word “Aliyaa” means elephant in Singhalese, a sacred animal that can be found in most Sri Lankan temples. So the name and signboard gives a hint of the delights that were being offered in this stylishly modern and hip restaurant that had seating on two levels.
I was tickled by this line in their website:
Aliyaa’s menu is filled with recipes that have been handed down from generations of mothers in Sri Lanka homes
There is nothing bolder in this world than invoking the names of generations of mothers and their recipes.
Patrons will be thinking ” oh so you think you are better than my me ma-ge’s (Mother) cooking ? ”
Game on. You just upped the game to a completely different level.
A mark of good Indian food is how the spices lift up the taste of the food. It is all about making sure you have the best spices, having the skill to know what is the right balance, and giving it sufficient and good heat to coax out the most amazing aromas to perfume your dish.
For you Chinamen out there, the next time you go to a good Indian restaurant or, better still, get invited to a home cooked Indian meal, don’t be an imbecile and think or say “hot, hot, hot” for the entire duration of the meal.
Instead, like a good paramour, stop and smell the spices. Once you have ladled what you want on your plate, do not be afraid to put your big olfactory honker into the food on your plate (try not to smell everyone’s food) and take a good strong whiff.
Oh – and close your eyes. It will focus your senses and attune your olfactory nerves. And you will look dramatic and almost learned.
This is perfectly acceptable to your Indian host. It is a mark of how deeply you appreciate their cooking and fine aromas and it will please your hosts. There is no need to give a blood curdling burp or fart voraciously to express your happiness.
So first things first. What did we drink?
Wine was out with the heavy and overpowering spices. So we sought refuge with a delightful Lagavulin Islay single malt.
Mo, my KL gastronomic sifu, explained that this was no ordinary everyday single malt , but was a double matured distillers edition – something special.
And indeed it was really special – smokey, peaty, and incredibly smooth.
We drank this throughout dinner like water – quite a decadent indulgence.
ALIYYA are proud to say in their website that they import all their spices and flour from Sri Lanka to ensure authenticity and quality.
So I whiffed deeply. Every dish.
And the spices did not disappoint.
I can think of 3 F words
F***### Fresh and Fragrant (again cleverly disguised because this is a family channel).
Sambal Set and papadums
The sambal set arrived. This was accompanied by a basket of freshly fried papadum.
I am a sucker for papadums so it didn’t help that the basket was placed right in front of me the whole night. It also didn’t help that the papadums were super delicious – crispy and savoury and shattering on every bite.
It went amazingly well with the chutney condiments in the Sambal set which were the following:
Katta sambol – spicy red chili with dried fish and lime juice
Seeni sambol – sweet onion chutney
Pol sambol – coconut shavings
Karupillay sambol – curry leaf pesto.
I wished the katta sambol could have been a trifle more spicy- it was too mild despite its enticing color.
But we were all praises for the Seeni Sambol. The sweet onions whetted the appetite nicely.
I was also fond of the Pol sambol. The moist coconut was delicious.
Lamb and Fish Cutlets
Next to arrive were the fish and lamb cutlets. I tried the fish cutlets but don’t remember trying the lamb cutlets.
I must confess I don’t remember much of the fish cutlets as I was at that stage, deep in animated conversation with KT seating next to me, who was giving me tips on where to get the best curry mee, roast pork (we both agreed Wong Kee in Pudu) in KL. He was also regaling me with the delights of Ipoh (his home town) cuisine.
I was therefore distracted.
Mutton Tulang (bone marrow) and Dried Mutton
I have grown up on Captain Kuttan’s Mutton Tulang which I feel is the best in Singapore so I am not easily impressed.
But ALIYAA’s Tulang dish blew me away. It was spicy (not exuberantly mind numbingly so mind you but with a slow burn), heavily spiced with a dozen intoxicating aroma and flavoured by curry leaves. The mutton meat was moist and fall off the bone tender and the bones were cut short so that you could easily access the wonderful gooey marrow inside.
This was undoubtedly my favourite dish of the evening and I could see myself wistfully longing for this dish on cold lonely nights in the future, tearing and inconsolable.
The poor dried mutton which followed suffered and was maligned simply because it was served after Tulang heaven. It was boneless, in a drier style, served in smaller cubes and was still nice and fragrant, perfumed by the curry leaves.
But I had run out of superlatives by then and my heart had been won and did not have space for another mutton.
Customers come to ALIYAA for their crabs and wax lyrical about it.
A popular version is their crab Colombo with a thick rich spiced paste.
The version we had was a dry version served with crispy fried onions and a dry paste. The onions were a delightful touch and the sweetness of the crab was amazing.
But it was the pungent fragrant aroma of the spices which turned the dish to be nothing short of superlative.
An amazing crab dish.
The plate was covered with shallots, onions and red cut chilli and was nicely scented.
It was a little mild for my liking as I like my woman spicy and searing hot.
Sorry did I say woman ? I mean prawns.
The prawns were fresh and very crunchy and all in all, was a good dish.
Okay chinamen don’t get excited. This is not your “gai Bei”or chicken drumstick. Instead, it is the seed pod from the Moringa oleifera tree which is a fast-growing, drought resistant tree, native to the southern foothills in southwestern India, where its young seed pods and leaves are used as vegetables and many parts of the tree are used in traditional herbal medicine.
I have had this dish many times before as my friends Sanjay and Kuan have this tree in their garden, and Kuan often cooks with it when she makes her superb Indian dishes.
The drum sticks served to us at ALIYYA were served two ways – one in a deep rich spiced tomato gravy and the other in coconut milk I believe. I loved the red version. It was spicy and added a kick to the drumstick.
My dining companion sitting to my right, the only chinese girl at the table, leaned over and whispered “how do you eat this ?”.
I was deep in the zone of the food and just muttered without thinking “oh you just put the whole thing in your mouth and you suck hard to get the middle bits out”.
I then realised what I had said.
And blushed deeply.
But such a killer line. Delivered with aplomb.
I felt like James Bond.
I waited for the footsie which never came.
She was neither shaken. Nor stirred.
Brinjals in coconut gravy
This dish was great.
The brinjals were delicious and tasted smoky to me, almost like it was grilled before it was cooked in the coconut gravy.
It blended beautifully with the coconut gravy and was a winner.
String Hoppers and Fish Curry
I am guessing by the colour that this was wholemeal string hoppers.
It blended well with the fish curry which was mild but flavourful.
Dessert – Appam
We were all so full by then but who could resist Appams with coconut and brown sugar? They were delicious.
I was offered another appam spiked with cognac after the first.
My brain said are you nuts you are going to explode but my lips did not agree and said “yes please “.
Nah- the cognac overpowered all the ingredients and did not do the whole dish justice. Stick to the delicious version without the brandy.
If you are contemplating a south Asian restaurant in KL, think no more.
Don’t take advice from this chinaman. But KT on my left is not Lim Kok Tai aka KT Lim, but KT Rajan, who knows his spices and curries, so you should heed what he says. And he has been to ALIYYA many times.
He swore to me at the end of the night, on the lives of the many glasses of Lagavulin we had that evening, that ALIYYA is without doubt the best Sri Lankan Restaurant in KL.
RajahLingam respectfully concurs.
- PHONE. 03-2092 5378
- 48 G&M MEDAN SETIA 2 , BUKIT DAMANSARA , 50490 KL