Traditional dishes revised for better taste at this 'colony'

Eight months ago, Sugania Naidu and her sister Nishalni struck gold with Hoppers KL, their fledgling restaurant which offered hoppers (or appam, to the uninitiated) of every stripe, from nasi lemak hoppers to satay-inspired ones.

Not even a year later, Sugania is at it again, making use of the empty space upstairs from Hoppers, and transforming it into a cosy, bright restaurant called Colony KL.

The idea for Colony came about because Sugania kept getting requests from customers to diversify the menu at Hoppers. Not wanting to tamper with what she had originally set out to do at Hoppers, she decided instead that the time was ripe for a second restaurant.

"I thought okay, this is probably the best way to do it, because we have this space and we're not doing anything with it. We can then do a whole new menu for upstairs."

"The whole idea of Colony is to offer food from Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. That's why it's called Colony - because they were former British colonies in Asia," she says.

The space is bright with widely spaced tables, lots of potted plants and sunlight filtering in from the windows and skylight above. While it could easily fit in a lot more people, Sugania has kept tables at a minimum to avoid a cluttered feel.

The interior of Colony features widely spaced tables, lots of plants and lots of sunlight spilling in from the windows and skylight.
Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

It is in this same vein that the menu has been kept deliberately small, to ensure each dish is carefully curated before it is presented. There are currently no more than 10 items on the menu, with another three to five being added soon.

Sugania came up with nearly all of Colony's dishes, except for the Myanmar dishes, which have been concocted by an employee. While the Myanmar offerings have stayed true to their roots, everything else on the menu has been tweaked and refined to stand out from other versions available in restaurants elsewhere in Kuala Lumpur.

Sugania Naidu came up with nearly all the dishes at Colony KL, and has kept the menu small to allow each dish to shine.
Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

"Because most people haven't encountered Myanmar food, I have kept to the original version. With everything else, we have made changes to the original recipes to make them slightly more modern. I wanted people to come here and have a different experience of familiar foods," she says.

So you'll discover slightly unusual renditions of classic dishes, like The Salem RM26 (S$8) which features slow-cooked duck briyani with roasted carrot and onion, and a side dish of raita.

The briyani recipe has been mined from her mother's recipe vault (her mother is from Salem in India) and is a family favourite. But instead of sticking with chicken or mutton for the meat element, she decided to venture out of familiar territory and do it with duck.

The result is a really yummy briyani that is fluffy, fragrant and suffused with spices. The duck is a charming addition that has been cooked well, tender and bursting with flavour.

It's one of those match-ups that seem incongruous at first, but will have you singing a different tune after the first mouthful.

"So we've cooked the briyani the normal way, but using duck because it's a slightly under-used ingredient.

Slow-cooked duck with briyani.
Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

The flavours of duck are very interesting - it's a bit meatier than chicken but not as meaty as lamb. Some people don't like lamb because of the smell and the chewiness, so I thought duck kind of sits in between both perfectly," says Sugania.

Soft, pliant squid with fresh, zesty flavours.
Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

Then there is the Rompin (RM28) which features a giant hunk of squid dressed with calamansi, garlic, cili padi and vinegar, and topped with holy basil and ulam raja.

This is a light, zesty offering that highlights how a few choice ingredients can elevate seafood to a different level. The squid is silky smooth with a melt-in-the-mouth texture and all the other ingredients raise the bar, imbuing the cephalopod with varying degrees of spicy, sour, tangy and herbaceous undertones.

If you're after something more filling, have a go at the Sri Pada (RM39) which features 48-hours Karma Cola marinated lamb ribs served on a carrot pomme puree.

Lamb ribs with the spotlight-stealing carrot puree.
Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

Karma Cola is a popular New Zealand drink that combines cola nuts from Sierra Leone with vanilla beans from Sri Lanka - flavours that you're likely to detect in the lamb.

The dish is also Sugania's way of paying homage to Sri Lanka's growing vanilla bean industry. While the lamb itself is a tad chewy, the real star here is the carrot puree, which is cottony soft, slightly sweet, and delicate as a cloud. I would gladly gobble up a bowlful of this, and there's no doubt you'll fall in love with it, too.

From the Myanmar dishes, the Mohinga (RM18) offers plenty to enjoy. The traditional dish of rice noodles in a fish-based soup is sprinkled with deep-fried dhal fritters and topped with duck crackling.

It's a really pleasant dish - the soup is slightly spicy and dense with fishy nuances running through it. The duck crackling is also pretty good - I had one piece that was a bit acrid and another that was perfectly done.

A true blue Myanmar dish, Mohinga. Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

Before you leave, you must, must make sure you try some of Colony's desserts, because Sugania spends a lot of time baking and used to make desserts as a side business when she was based in London, so she really knows what she's doing here.

Start with the bruleed watalappam tart (RM14). Watalappam is a coconut custard pudding that you would typically find in Sri Lanka, but Sugania has turned it on its head, transforming the core flavours into a tart filling, topped with coconut ice cream.

This is one of Colony's true masterpieces, a silken custard filling with the sweet jaggery, condensed milk and spice mix of watalappam, dextrously balanced against a buttery pastry crust.

The coconut ice cream on top is the literal icing on the cake, drawing all the different elements together like a masterful conductor guiding the musicians in an orchestra.

A reworked Sri Lankan classic, watalappam. Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

The chai-spiced sticky toffee pudding (RM12) is also totally worth a try. The understated chai flavours are buoyed by the dense, pillowy soft pudding that you'll keep reaching for, even when your brain and all the diet gurus in the universe are telling you you've had more than enough, thank you very much.

Chai spiced sticky toffee pudding. Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

Sugania says she realises that the menu is small, but it is important to her that people can sample everything on offer and leave feeling satisfied.

"I don't want Colony to be known for only one or two things that are good. Because a lot of times at restaurants, they're known for a few things but everything else is just okay. Then what's the point of putting it on the menu?" she says.

Colony KL

76 Jalan Pudu (upstairs)

55100 Kuala Lumpur

Tel: 012 360 9853

Open Tuesdays to Sundays, noon to 9pm