Bridging the gap between kopitiam classics & modern comfort fare, Li puts a millennial-pleasing spin on 20th-century staples like roti babi, kaya toast & bubur ikan bilis, fuelling a Malaysian soul-food revitalisation by a committed new generation of kitchen talents. If the people behind Li & their philosophies foreshadow the fate of local cooking, the future might be bright.
Li is founded by two Lims & a Lee - chef Heng Kit (formerly of The Kitchen Table), barista Yee Rui (previously at VCR), & front-of-house stalwart Ziyan - all of whom first met at Melbourne's William Angliss hospitality & culinary arts institute. Their training supplies a solid foundation for skilful baking, curing, roasting, pickling & saucing - start with Li's house-made sourdough bread, turned into crunchy-fried, irresistibly greasy-bottomed open sandwiches layered with tender minced pork, sesame seeds, sriracha mayo & cilantro (RM9.50; not our granddaddy's Yut Kee roti babi, but distinctively memorable & enjoyable enough to be a Li signature) & textured toasts coupled with can't-fail soft eggs (RM7.50) or kaya butter (RM5.50).
Our favourite order here is the rice bowl with succulent-smooth chicken thigh, the runniest egg, ginger scallion sauce, sriracha mayo & cucumber (RM16.90) - it might most closely resemble Japanese donburi, but mix everything up & after a few bites, this hearty creation begins to evoke a broad range of the dynamics & dimensions of traditional Chinese chicken rice, a pleasantly strange surprise & - alongside the reinterpreted roti babi - possibly an honourable homage to Heng Kit's Hainanese heritage.
The tagliatelle with slow-cooked pulled pork, sesame oil, scallions, grated cured egg yolk & pickled green chillies (RM16.90) also upends expectations - the soft-textured pasta with its accompaniments end up tasting somewhat similar to Hakka Mee, apparently intentional. In this case though, it's unclear whether folks will prefer the original inspiration or the innovative tribute.
The anchovy congee with egg, fish sauce caramel & scallion sauce (RM9.50) is thick, warming & feels wholly nourishing, with earthy-green nuances, but if ikan bilis isn't your thing, it won't be the chief lure. The roast chicken leg with potatoes & pickles (RM21) is juicy & capably whipped up, though it targets customers who're seeking the safest, most inoffensive choice possible.
romaine lettuce with grated cured egg yolk (a fun substitute for the typical parmesan), pickled onions, wolfberries & fish sauce vinaigrette (RM15) & sweet potatoes with mixed greens, apples, mint, pumpkin seeds & citrus vinaigrette (RM20.90) - both have clear merits, balancing a myriad of flavours, though the former could benefit from more heft while the latter makes for tricky manoeuvring if you like to consume every component in each forkful.
For dessert, lychees with meringue, lime granita & coconut milk (RM15.50) work best as a chilled refreshment if you relish lychees. Blondies sourced from Jaslyn Cakes are also available. Iced beverages shine a spotlight on lemon, lemongrass & kumquats; coffee is offered, & while wine is not, bottles won't be banished for corkage-payers. Service is cheery & obliging.
47 Jalan SS 22/23, Damansara Jaya, Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Kitchen opens Tuesday-Sunday for lunch & dinner.
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