Old China Cafe in Kuala Lumpur

Old China Cafe in Kuala Lumpur is one of the interesting nostalgic eateries in Malaysia which takes you back into the 1930s. Opened in 1996 initially as an antique gallery cum restaurant, this Melaka Peranakan style restaurant evolved into a full restaurant serving authentic Peranakan Baba-Nyonya dishes. This Old Cafe is also located in one of Kuala Lumpur's old pre-war utilitarian buildings which dates back to 1917 in the Chinatown area or Petaling Street as it is locally known.

Old China Cafe swinging wooden bar doors

Old China Cafe has also managed to maintain almost all of the original fittings and trimmings of the former guild hall of the Laundry Association of Kuala Lumpur back in the day. The wooden swinging bar doors on hinges take you back in time immediately as you step into this premises.

1930s ambiance inside

This has been my 3rd visit over the span of 10 years to the Old China Cafe and everything remained the same. As you walk in, you will be greeted by popular Chinese songs from the 1920s while the entire place looks like a movie set from the same era. Authentic Peranakan marble table and chairs fill the cafe while memorabilia from eight decades back are tastefully laid throughout the place.

Filled with various interesting items

Having taken my seat a one of the larger marble tables, I could not help but gawk at the amazing decorations on the walls. Large feng shui mirrors are placed on both sides of the seasoned sepia toned walls while various fading pictures from the early days are lined on top. Even the poker table lamps were authentic porcelain antiques. Stained glass occupy the two windows that shed natural light into the cafe.

Classic Wooden bar

Looking towards the back end of the shop lot, I see an old antique wooden bar accompanied by a wooden bar-back filled with bottles of wine and glasses juxtaposed by a draft beer tap, a modern telephone and the cash register which was computerized. Even the walls looked like they have not been painted for the last 50 years.

Old China Cafe famous Pai Tee or Top Hat

A paper menu was given to us by one of the workers there and without hesitation, I ordered the famous Nyonya Pai Tee (Top Hat), a Nyonya appetiser which has always been my favourite Melaka dish. The Top Hat is actually deep fried wheat flour and the condiments are bean sprouts, shredded turnip, carrots and dried shrimp with a side dish of chili.

Honestly, this place serves one of the best Top Hats in the country. Eating this Baba-Nyonya delicacy is tricky as one needs to fill the top hat with the ingredients given and then down it in one go. If you try to take small bites, it would probably fall all over the table. Details of the local dishes are at end of this posting.

Peranakan Nasi Lemak

While the cafe is famous for their Melaka (Malacca) Style Assam Laksa, I am not a big fan of this so I went ahead with my usual order of the Peranakan Style *Nasi Lemak with Rendang Chicken. What makes this dish special is the blue colour of the rice which is actually an extract of a flower which is used to dye the rice.

Nyonya Jui Hu Char

Now, this is one for the famous Nyonya food dish called Jui Hu Char which has no English name. The dish however is pretty fascinating to try as a first timer. Jui Hu Car is actually stir fried shredded turnip, carrots, cuttlefish, mushrooms and chicken served with a batch of fresh lettuce and a side dish of chili. In order to enjoy this dish, you take a fresh piece of lettuce and fill it with the contents given. Chili to taste and then wrap it up anyway you like and pop it in your mouth.

Great coffee at Old China Cafe KL

My entourage had also ordered some other dishes like Nyonya fried vermicelli (Mee Hoon), Curry Mee (Noodle Curry) and I had to try the coffee once again which was pretty decent though I like my coffee with ice and milk. The hot coffee is pretty nice while it is served in authentic coffee shop styled cups from the sixties.

Overall view from the stairs

For the record, the washroom is located upstairs on the first floor of the old pre-war building. A wooden staircase at an angle of 60% leads you to the once antique gallery and washroom. Getting up and down can be a little hard for those who have climbing problems or weak knees.

The first floor multi purpose hall

In the former antique gallery, rows of classic chairs are arranged for what looks like a mini convention of some sort. I guess you could book the top floor for a mini gathering or a private function with a feel of the sixties.

What Malaysia Asia thinks about this place;
  • Worth a visit if you have not been here or if you are in the city of KL.
  • Ambiance is awesome, food is great and not too expensive.
  • Beers are served and the place is non-halal (pork served).
  • An interesting visit if you are an antique lover.
  • Interesting place to photograph, but sit down and have a drink at least.
  • If you exploring Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur, just pop in for a cup of coffee and experience this hard-to-find nostalgia.
*Nasi Lemak is a coconut flavoured rice meal where the rice is cooked in coconut milk made aromatic with pandan leaves (Screwpine Leaves). Served usually with Sambal Ikan Bilis which are fried dried small anchovies and cooked in a dry sambal chili sauce. Garnishing include sliced cucumbers, a hard boil egg and roasted or fried peanuts. Malaysians eat this dish for breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper.

Meal for two - RM60+ (US$20+)
Coffee/Tea for two - RM10 (US$3.30)
Draft Beer - RM12 (US$4)

Website of the Old China Cafe Kuala Lumpur

Old China Cafe Address;
11, Jalan Balai Polis,
50000 Kuala Lumpur
Telephone: +603 20725915
Fax: +603 20261897
Opening Hours: 11AM-11PM

Map to Old China Cafe Kuala Lumpur

View Old China Cafe Kuala Lumpur in a larger map

For a nostalgic journey through time, one of the best known places of KL can be found right here in the Chinatown district. Walking in will definitely put you in awe as this is a replica of how the old cafes of KL used to look like. Though it is not located in the main business core area, you can explore the place on foot until you find the Old China Cafe in Kuala Lumpur.