KL Food Goes Pop

10 December 2015

Is pop up dining the next foodie trend to look out for? We speak to several pop up dining entrepreneurs who prove that it may not be a flash in the pan.

If there’s one thing that people in Kuala Lumpur love talking about, it’s food. We’re obsessed with tracking down the best places to eat: from scouring blog posts to queuing for brunch on a weekend. 

So it’s not surprising that the city has, in recent years, seen a growing appetite for pop up dining. After all, in our search for “somewhere new” to eat, what could satisfy more than a one-off experience?

“Pop up dining” is the idea of setting up a restaurant or cafes for a limited time. It could be there anywhere between one hour to one year. But a “pop up” is, by definition, temporary. Soon, it will be gone, leaving no trace behind it.

In KL, pop up dining started a few years ago as supper clubs gained popularity. These supper clubs were usually hosted in a chef’s private home with a set menu, on a certain night of the week. But soon, more casual pop ups started appearing in public places, often as collaborations between chefs, cafes and entrepreneurs. 

Basira Yeusuff is the founder of Root Cellar KL, a food company that specialises in catering and pop up dining experiences. Recently, Root Cellar KL has collaborated with different cafes, including DR.inc and SevenCups, to create limited pop up menus for one month at a time. 

For Basira, a trained chef who has worked in restaurant kitchens, the appeal of pop up dining is that you can go a little crazy with your menu: “You do not have to stick to a mould. A pop up is an experiment, where you get to gauge what people are ready for.” 

Each new collaboration will result in unique dishes. “I work best with input from partners,” says Basira. “I can get inspired by your space, by what music you like.”

Adrian Yap, a restaurateur who established The Bee in KL, recently launched a pop up bar called 44. Formerly hosted at Bangsar’s Art Printing Works, then at The Row on Jalan Doraisamy, 44 bar is (at time of writing) now at DR.inc café.

“We try to move towards spaces with a unique personality,” says Adrian. Each space has been different but also distinct, in keeping with the bar’s menu of craft spirits that aren’t found elsewhere.

In a city hungry for new experiences, a pop up venture has the advantage of never becoming stale. 

However, this year, a trio of young culinary arts graduates has taken the pop up concept even further. Pop Up Dining KL runs events that are hosted in different venues, and usually for only one or two nights at a time. 

The idea was launched when former KDU students Miki Marie Lie, Amanda Huang Chia Wern and Daniel Yap Chuin Sien decided they would like to throw a dining event – but needed a space. They happened to be sitting in Jaslyn Cakes in Bangsar at the time, and this became their first venue. 

“It’s not just going to a restaurant where you order and get what you ordered. You have to be ready for something different,” says Amanda. Pop Up Dining KL aims for a fine dining experience, but without the typical cost of overheads, their prices are more affordable.  

Cafe owners have started approaching the team, in order to “bring in a new crowd” to their shops. So far, the venture looks like a success. Yet the team sees Pop Up Dining KL as a passion project. All three still have day jobs. 

As those in the industry know, pop ups are not a quick path to financial success. Pop ups tend to be unpredictable. While you can raise the profile of your brand, you can’t always make a profit. 

Basira of Root Cellar KL gives a further note of caution: “I would not recommend doing a pop up to someone who wants to open a brick and mortar shop. It’s like night and day.” 

Mei Wan Tan, the co-founder of the Kitchen Table Restaurant and Bakery, agrees. Having started The Kitchen Table as a supper club with Marcus Low, the two then transitioned to opening a restaurant in Damansara Kim. “The first year in the shop was the learning curve. It was a completely different angle,” she says.

Now that the Kitchen Table has established itself, it has started to once again host supper clubs. “It’s for the team, to help them to grow,” says Mei Wan. 

Because of the supper clubs, the young chefs get a chance to craft a unique menu, which pushes them beyond their daily kitchen routines. The supper club also allows the Kitchen Table to collaborate and grow a network of like-minded restaurateurs. 

For customers, pop up dining means a unique meal. For chefs, it means the freedom to experiment with their menus. But the value of pop up dining goes beyond the experience itself. 

Within the KL dining industry, pop ups are a way for entrepreneurs to connect with one another, learn and improve from experiences. The one dish you’re guaranteed? Food for thought. 

By Ling Low 
Photos of 44 Bar courtesy of 44 Bar
Photo of Pop Up Dining KL  courtesy of Pop Up Dining KL


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