Review: Beta KL Pulls Out All Flavour Stops For Its Year-End Tasting Menu

The modern Malaysian restaurant shows a different side of Malaysia through the Season 3/2023 menu.
The trio of canapes: (Clockwise from left) Prawn & Shell, Northern Staple, and Terroir of Ipoh.

Beta KL is having a pretty good run of a year. After getting on the Michelin Select list last December, there are more eyes than ever on the modern Malaysian restaurant. When head chef and co-owner Raymond Tham isn’t busy curating menus for the likes of Cafe Dioriviera at Desaru Coast and Louis Vuitton’s Fall/Winter 2023 event in Kuala Lumpur, he’s thinking of ways to update his Tour of Malaysia tasting menu at Beta KL. 

The Tour of Malaysia tasting menu is a lengthy menu priced at RM450 per person and comprises 11 dishes. The menu brings you on a gastronomical journey through the north, south, and central peninsular Malaysia, and also through east Malaysia. With each region, Tham focuses on either a terroir specialty, or a dish that the state is most known for. If that sounds like too much “travelling” for your palate, you can also opt for the Taste of Beta menu, which has eight dishes and is priced at RM360 per person. Both menus come with an optional cocktail pairing menu with drinks that have been carefully shaped to complement a specific dish within the menu.  

With my Tour of Malaysia menu, I opted for a three-cocktail pairing which would come with the Myristica, Mangofera, and Paddy Terroir cocktails. The tasting journey begins at the north of peninsula Malaysia with three canapes and we begin with the Northern Staple, which pays tribute to the “rice bowl” of Malaysia—Perlis and Kedah. According to Tham, nasi lemak in those regions are served with a small, deep-fried fish. He took inspiration from that to create the Northern Staple, using deep-fried bulus fish with glutinous rice for a deep, crunchy flavour. The second canape brings us a little lower in the northern region; Perak, to be precise. 

Terroir of Ipoh uses ingredients that the town is most known for: pomelo, soy milk, and peanuts, all arranged in a bite-sized tart and topped with beetroot jelly. It’s a surprisingly cold dish that breaks up the flavour profiles of the first and third canape, the latter being Prawn & Shell, inspired by none other than Penang. A deep fried mantao-like bun acts as the base for the prawn tartare. Its flavours are further heightened with a prawn shell XO sauce made from the discarded prawn shells of the tartare, a sustainable lesson drawn from the practices of our hawker chefs. The Myristica cocktail marks the first pairing of the night with these three canapes, as it was also inspired by the northern parts of peninsula Malaysia. The gin-based cocktail is fashioned with nutmeg juice and imparts a clean flavour with a bit of zest, a great refresher to go with the varied flavours of the canapes. 

beta kl
Childhood Weekend.

From the northern regions, we head down towards Tham’s hometown of Negeri Sembilan. It is not only the inspiration for his next dish, Childhood Weekend, but also holds some nostalgia from his days as a young boy. Blood cockles were a favourite treat of his, but Childhood Weekend is further elevated and served with pickled radishes and turmeric to ward off that notable metallic flavour. Finding blood cockles on the menu of a fine restaurant is a first for me, but I was game to try this interesting take on an extremely local street dish. It may be elevated, but the essence of locality still remains, which is an impressive feat. 

The next culinary destination heads further south, where Johor Bahru’s mee rebus reigns supreme. Tempeh, is inspired by that noodle dish’s broth and is turned into a thick soup of sorts featuring poached oyster, edible foam, and crunchy tempeh. It’s a luxurious take on mee rebus, and the addition of oyster at the bottom was almost like treasure hunting. As we near the middle of the dish, I caught a whiff of daun sup—Chinese celery—that gave the dish a delightfully green flavour, although I’m aware that not everyone will appreciate this. 

Nostalgia plays as big of a part in cooking as the locality does, and Tham knows this well. For his 0.00% Yeast bread, he draws inspiration from his grandparents in the 1940s. War was rampant then and people were living in poverty—bread was the main form of sustenance, and even then, they could not make regular bread out of flour. Instead, they relied on tapioca and fermented black beans to make tapioca bread, which is the backbone of the 0.00% Yeast dish. Dense and chewy with a consistency almost similar to a certain variant of kuih, the bread is solid and served with a red chilli emulsion. 

Flying towards East Malaysia, Tham shows us a plant-based version of hinava, a Sabahan ceviche dish. You would not know it at first glance, but instead of fish, this version is made from compressed watermelon—hence the dish name, Watermelon. Alongside sea grapes and tuhau (white ginger), it’s garnished with calamansi snow for a refreshing, crisp, and tart dish. Back in the peninsula, Tham introduces Baby Squid, inspired by ketupat sotong from Kelantan. The foam covering the squid is tempoyak flavoured, which is a Malay condiment made from fermented durian—a Pahang specialty. Served over jicama with a masak hitam sauce underneath, you get a flavourful dish combining all the flavours prevalent to the Malay community. Tempoyak is an acquired taste that not even all Malaysians are a fan of, but its introduction in a foam form is faint. It may have been my first interaction with this condiment, but it certainly won’t be my last. 

As for the mains, I decided to go for the Cornfed Chicken. No regular spring chicken, Tham has artfully shaped it into a roulade, layered with betel leaf pesto, and served with compressed paku fern leaves. Wrapped with chicken skin and paste for a medley of flavours and textures with the right amount of fattiness and depth, this is not your typical chicken dish. Points go to the chef for creativity and flair, transforming your everyday ingredient into a star dish. Accompanying the mains is my final cocktail of the night, Mangofera. The Pisco-style cocktail has an interesting ingredient: bambangan, a type of fermented mango that’s a famous delicacy in Sabah. The pungent flavour is noticeable as an aftertaste in the cocktail, but not at all off-putting. 

Finally, the Tour of Malaysia comes to a close with Loyang Vol. 4. Regulars to Beta KL will recognise the shape of this dessert, as it has seen many iterations throughout the years and seasons. For Season 3 in 2023, Tham uses ruby chocolate for the outer layer of the dessert, while the inner layer features bambangan. It is “deep fried” with liquid nitrogen and topped with whipped cream and coconut flakes on the side. Pandan, the second dessert, is inspired by a local favourite: cendol. Gula Melaka is again, “deep fried” in liquid nitrogen, while the kaya ice cream presents the predominant pandan flavour in the dessert, finished off with red bean jelly. A delicious homage to an already perfect dessert. 

Season 3 of 2023, which is the final tasting menu iteration of the year, is certainly when Tham pulls out all the stops. After sitting through the meal, it’s obvious that he’s raring to explore more adventurous flavours that even some Malaysians may not be used to. It’s a great culinary lesson about the lesser-known delicacies of the country, packaged into a neat little tasting menu. 

Make a reservation for Beta KL here

Address: Lot 163, 10, Jalan Perak, Kuala Lumpur, 50450 Kuala Lumpur

Opening Hours: 6PM–10PM, Tuesdays to Sundays.