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An Oldie But Goodie
Having been around for almost a century, the Coliseum Café on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman is a Kuala Lumpur institution. We check in with the restaurant’s younger crew to find out how they help to keep the 96-year-old recipes alive.
With the country’s burgeoning café scene, Malaysians are always on the lookout for the latest local food craze, going the extra mile just to have a taste of it. But while some modern cafés and restaurants go all out to create the next food sensation, the Coliseum Café & Grill Room has been sticking to their time-honoured recipes since 1921.
Located along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman (Jalan TAR), the Coliseum Café is one of the oldest of its kind in the country, and stands as a symbol of Kuala Lumpur’s colonial past. Entering the café is like a step back in time to the 1920s.
Inside, the dark wooden saloon doors lead to the Wild West Bar, where the setup has remained largely unchanged since day one. Old tables and armchairs dot the area, the walls decorated with framed newspaper clippings and old photographs. Look down and you’ll see their delightfully worn tiled floors, ready for that #selfeet shot.
However, it’s not just the furniture and decor that keeps the old Coliseum vibe alive; it’s the people who run the restaurant.
“I remember stepping in here when I was 20 years old thinking ‘is this really a restaurant?’” recalls Dominic Dan, 35, formerly the floor manager at the original Coliseum. Nowadays, Dan oversees the Mid Valley branch as operations manager.
Dan is a second generation staff at Coliseum; you can still find his mother working in the kitchen at the Jalan TAR branch. As a frontliner of the restaurant, he does his best to cater to the modern customers while keeping the integrity of this colonial gem intact.
“Compared to the past, the Coliseum Café used to be much darker. The lighting was very dim and our customers wanted a brighter setting because they want to see each other and their food. So we changed the lighting so that the customers can enjoy themselves while eating,” he says on some of the improvements they’ve made to the original establishment.
Part of Coliseum’s legacy are its heritage recipes, upheld by their seasoned chefs and kitchen crew. But working alongside the veteran Coliseum chefs are also younger cooks learning the ropes. “I think what attracted me to work in the Coliseum Café was working with the older chefs,” shares executive sous chef Jimmy Loi.
Although Loi grew up in Kuala Lumpur, he admits he never had any memories at Coliseum until he started working here.
“Personally, I like the classic menu that the café tries to maintain. It’s a challenge to bring in younger customers [to see the old dishes as heritage] but the challenge is something that motivates me to work here,” says Loi.
“Till today, we still have the older generation of chefs working with us,” he adds.
“Day by day, we learn from them how to make the dishes and we do our best to keep that tradition alive for our customers. Though it is challenging because we have to be patient with each other due to the generation gap, we still enjoy ourselves in the process.”
As for executive chef Sharuhasan Ramu, his first experience at Coliseum was during his job interview.
“We had our interview at the front of house, and during the interview, someone had ordered the sizzling rib eye steak. I didn’t know that they would pour [the gravy] in front of the customers so that startled me because it filled the whole restaurant with smoke,” says Sharuhasan.
A tradition and staple at Coliseum is their sizzling Australian rib eye steak. It’s usually served with potato wedges and a generous amount of gravy poured over the steak right in front of you. Another all-time favourite is the Hainanese chicken chop.
Although they work to uphold the traditional menu, these young chefs have also added new dishes to modernise the menu.
“What we are doing right now is improving the current menu while retaining the signature meals like the rib rye steak and the Hainanese chicken chop. A lot of families come into our restaurants so we do our best to create new [dishes] for the new customers to love,” explains Loi.
Even with Coliseum expanding to swankier locations, nothing beats soaking in the nostalgia of its original Jalan TAR premises. And with the restaurant’s older team passing the baton to a younger generation of cooks, Coliseum looks set to serve sizzling steaks for more generations to come.
Address: 98-100 & 102, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, 50100 Kuala Lumpur (03 2692 6270). Open daily, 10am-10pm. For more info, visit www.coliseum1921.com.
Text and photos by Josh Wong
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