Wander along the historic streets of downtown KL and there’s a good chance you’ll happen upon REXKL, the iconic former cinema building that’s found a new lease on life as a thriving events, retail and dining hub, thanks to the efforts of architect duo Shin Chang and Shin Tseng.
While vibrant, experimental, and pulsing with life, the space also pays homage to its storied past and culturally rich surroundings, reflected in the old theatre hall and concrete floors that remain largely unchanged.
On the roof of the building, its newest bar and restaurant Shhhbuuuleee echoes the very same spirit through its uniquely crafted dishes and unexpected flavours.
An urban expression
First-timers might take a couple of wrong turns before successfully locating the mildly incognito Shhhbuuuleee, which can be found past the top level of the hive-like BookXcess bookstore.
On arrival, one is greeted with industrial minimalist decor, brightened by mellow splashes of blue and red on abstract shaped tables and chairs. Through the open air seating area, sunlight pours in during the daytime, inevitably relenting to the cool breeze that pervades the space come evening.
The brainchild of both Chef Mui and Shin Chang, the eatery was envisioned as a place where expectations could be disregarded and creativity exercised without restraint. This is seen in the eclectic elements of the interior design as well as the innovative East Asian inspired food.
But let’s just pause right here for a moment, because by now, you’re probably wondering about the name. To be clear, no one accidentally fell asleep on a keyboard with a Word document open, and inadvertently woke up to an ingenious restaurant moniker.
Chef Mui explains that the ‘Shhh’ refers to the bookstore next door where some shushing might, on occasion, occur. The ‘buuleee’ comes from the Mandarin word for ‘not caring’, representing the non-conformist, independent attitude that the restaurant is characterised by.
With that out of the way, here are some top hits from Shhhbuuuleee’s menu, which changes seasonally and incorporates local ingredients and sustainable techniques as much as possible.
What to share at ShhhBuuuLeee
Before kicking off the meal, a sunny-hued highball cocktail called the Mikan-Hi is first presented with a flourish. A blend of aragoshi mikan, imo shochu, and soda, the citrusy beverage is refreshingly light with the slightest floral touch, an ideal accompaniment to Shhhbuuuleee’s relaxed rooftop setting.
Other popular drink choices include the Ougaku, a light, clean shochu from the Kagoshima Prefecture, and the Mutsu Hassen Junmai Ginjo, an elegant, smooth sake with a fruity aroma and silky texture.
On to the food – one of the bestselling items on the menu, the Japanese Sea Bream, channels the beloved zesty flavours of the Szechuan Suan Cai Yu. Fresh sea bream is enhanced with salted kumquat, lemon oil, crisp slices of pear and Mu’s First Draw Soy Sauce, offering a flavourful balance that keeps pulling you back for more.
Following this strong start comes the Drunken Cockles, an elegant yet punchy creation that features Sabah cockles, rice wine, mustard seed oil and Mu’s taucu (fermented bean paste). At first taste, the rice wine in the shellfish makes its presence immediately known, while a small amount of the Chinese staple taucu is all that’s needed to provide a potent shot of savoury flavour.
The seafood theme continues with the Grouper Head Terrine, described by Chef Mui as one of the most time consuming dishes to prepare. Consisting of ground grouper head, Szechuan pepper, locally grown Chayote, and a bright chilli vinaigrette, the pancake-like terrine is a vivacious quartet of crunchy, creamy, tangy and joltingly spicy.
Next, Grilled Peppers sitting on a bed of sesame and peanut butter sauce, along with a plate of Red Glutinous Rice, grace our table. Green and red baby bell peppers take on a new dimension of complexity when combined with the nutty dip, while the Sarawak-sourced rice finds a lively counterbalance in the umami-heavy Sakura shrimp and salt-cured fish roe.
Rounding out the parade of sumptuous small plates is the Smoked Beef Tongue, which arrives sandwiched between pieces of jicama, held together with a skewer, and draped with shrimp paste. Rich, savoury, with a hint of sweetness, the tender meat seamlessly melts into the buttery sauce, punctuated only by the welcome crunch of the fresh jicama.