Sunday, 9 November 2008

Old Cafes in KL - Coliseum & Old China Cafe

If you Google Coliseum Restaurant KL, 60300 hits will pop up.

Located at 98-100 Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, this colonial establishment is a rarity in that it remains an unpretentious cafe and hotel. Established in 1921 as an inexpensive alternative for the planters and tin miners who couldn't afford the Station and Majestic hotels, it still fits the budget of the discriminating traveler looking for a good deal.

Imagine the discussions in the 1950's, when planters and tin miners gathered on Friday nights to discuss anti-communist strategy during the Malayan Emergency.

Now, a must visit for tourists, proclaimed by Lonely Planet, Frommer's etc, this watering hole is refuge for the sun burnt traveller to enjoy a cold beer, whisky soda or Singapore sling and absorb some nostalgia.

A Dutch visitor commented: 1920s ambiance reminds me of Amsterdam! Feel at home there immediately....Great place for a cold beer in town or meeting up before going somewhere else. I love sitting there in the afternoon with a drink and making my phone calls, then move on to the next destination. Totally like typical Amsterdam cafes like Weyers and the likes of that.

Locals enjoy the food as they relive childhood dinner treats with parents:-

I love dining at Coliseum restaurant, seeing people from different races & background and even "Mat Salleh" love this place very much. With RM 16.90++, you can enjoy a super large chicken chop set ever in town.

I've being going to the Coliseum for years and in the past have had some of the best steaks I've ever tasted. However, like your other Jan 2008 reviewer, my January meal was awful. We didn't eat 5% of the steak, paid and left. I love the place but it seems it has really started to serve substandard food.

I've been there since childhood like most of its ardent visitors but since recent years, all I heard was that the place serves pork and that its halal status is questionable...could anyone verify this please...I really want to bring my family there just like how my father brought us there last time..

Hotel rooms are huge, albeit without bathrooms (some rooms have sinks), and come with ancient electric switches, tables and chairs, high ceilings and wardrobes. Bathrooms and toilets are on the hall, with spigots and plastic buckets replacing the old Shanghai jars.

Room rates: Single room with fan RM 28 , Double room with fan RM 33, Single room with air-con RM 38 , Double room with air-con RM 45.

The Cafe serves up old favourites like chicken chop, Hainanese chicken rice, fried rice and sizzling steaks with lots and lots of gravy. This cuisine is typical of the Hainanese cooks who originated from Hainan way back when. They settled in Malaya and were invariably employed as cooks and house keepers for the orang puteh. The rest houses all over the country and hill station bungalows were run by these 'cookies', often a family affair where the husband was caretaker and chef, and the wife saw to the laundry and making of beds etcAfter a couple of sizzling steaks are grilled to perfection beside your table, you meekly say thank you and attack the succulent meat, guilty and embarrassed that the whole room is now filled with smoke and steam due to your steaks!
As you enjoy yummy old time simple desserts like banana split, fried banana with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce, pancakes and honey or the piece de resistance bomb Alaska, you can't help but notice the oldest waiter you've seen, still sturdy and supervising his young protege.
The Coliseum Theatre, one of the oldest movie theaters in the country, was built in 1921 by the Chua family next door to the cafe. The Art Deco styled building is capable of seating 900 people and also features a balcony.

This cinema hall has been running continuously (save for a break during the Japanese occupation during World War II). Nowadays with the increasing popularity of Bollywood films, this cinema specialises in screening this genre of movies.

The Old China Cafe, located at one end of Petaling Street at 11, Jalan Balai Polis, draws 230,000 hits on Google.
This 1906 shop house served as a Guild Hall of Selangor & Federal Territory Laundry Association for 67 years before it was converted to the existing cafe. The clan house for Chinese launderers and dhobymen was set up to look after the welfare of this group, from finding jobs, sending money home to China to housing them.

The speciality of the house is Nyonya food, and the menu of Pai Tee, mee siam, asam laksa, bubur cha cha etc is proudly displayed on the rattan blinds. Typical marble topped coffee shop tables and black wood bentwood coffee shop chairs of yesteryear feature prominently.

Much of the memorabilia from the Laundry Guild are retained to give that authentic feel. The walls are covered with sepia photographs, old documents and two Feng Shui mirrors facing each other representing good luck ad infinitum.

Treasured wall clocks and even an old General Electric fridge circa 1970 is still in use. The creaky staircase leads to the antique gallery on the first floor.

The best part of this tale is that I only recently discovered Old China Cafe myself, through a French lady who practises acupuncture at a Chinese medical hall in Petaling Street. No kidding. Now who's introducing what to the locals, I ask you?

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