Barat: Great vegetarian food, good social deeds, and the occasional lecture

Behold, golden manna from the heavens

Barat is a stylish and modern Mediterranean-inspired vegetarian restaurant with a conscience — their food comes from as close to the source as possible, dealing directly with the farmers as much as possible, and ensuring that most of the capital goes straight to the grower. It’s a commendable mission, and something that is genuinely lacking from most restaurant experiences in Kuala Lumpur.

We went twice.

The first time around, we came away feeling like Barat was the kind of guy who tells you (before even being asked) that the shoes on his feet are made of sustainably grown hemp, sewed together by cobblers who are afforded the kind of dental care you could only dream of.

You smile and nod, thinking to yourself – I don’t remember ordering the lecture, buddy.

It started off well enough, and for all intents and purposes, what we were eating tasted fresh and bright. The stuffed jalapenos were delightful, the golden fried cheese perfectly crisp, and the patatas bravas (spicy potatoes) creamy and perfectly cooked.

It went downhill when we made a joke about the Mediterranean spiced patatas burger, served with homemade chips.

Sounds like a chip butty with a side of… more chips, amirite?!

ACTUALLY…” came a voice from above.

Turns out it’s different. Very different, the owner informed us.

How different?

Well, the patty is 40% potato. The other 60% comes from a mix of vegetables, whose starch content is… a mystery. We listened, eyes glazed over, as a 15-minute explanation ensued. Our ability to digest details, and our appetites, vanished into the ether.

Oh, yeah — the side dish. It featured sweet potatoes (which, we were told, aren’t really potatoes).

As we listened on about the restaurant’s ethos and ethics, we have to admit that it felt like our pasta forks became their own entities — suspended, floating through the air, their contents just waiting to be consumed. Heckling us as we scrunched our faces in “thought”. (This was less about reflection than it was about digestive concerns).

Finally, the speech was over. The couple at the neighboring table informed us that the whole spiel was especially riveting the second time around.

Oh, you mean he lectured you guys too? Yes, yes, he did.

While we applaud their efforts to create a sustainable relationship between the consumer, restaurant and grower, the energy and lifeblood had been sucked out of us by the time the next course arrived.

We didn’t have dessert. We left confused, slightly drunk, and trying to figure out where our joy had gone.

Coconuts KL is not one to give in to our whims and emotions when it comes to reviews: If we feel there’s more to the story, then we’ll come back for seconds.

So, we gave it another go, hopeful that perhaps a second visit would be free from any prolonged conversations about fair trade tomatoes.

Sitting with a Barat evangelist, and two other vegetable lovers, we embarked on their tasting menu. Thirteen courses, reasonably priced at RM155. Maybe the experience would sway us back into the lettuce fold.

Thank you, menu model

Spoiler alert: It did. It was great. It was fresh. It was bright. It was perfectly seasoned. It was creative enough to make you appreciate the thought behind the dishes without having to hear anyone’s unsolicited thoughts. The food spoke for itself.

Bread comes with your meal. As lovers of all things leavened, we say: It was nice. Not really our favorite style (we prefer a crustier loaf), but pleasant enough to munch on while you’re waiting for your food. The olive oil that came with it was adulterated with some kind of citrusy mixer, though. Maybe just ask for the olive oil with salt, sans anything else, if you like your dipping oil to stay true to the olive.

The first dish was an excellent pumpkin soup infused with ginger. Creamy, and pale yellow, you cannot imagine the punch of flavor you get from one single spoonful. The ginger manages to hit you without being overwhelming, the pumpkin there without that textured heaviness that comes with a lot of pumpkin soups.

“I come here just for the soup,” says the Baratista.

We will too.

Next, salad. The tempura mandarin orange slices inside were approached with a bit of suspicion on our part, but turned out to be an interesting addition. Do we think they could have been served another way? Perhaps. But the whole point of tasting menus it to take you out of your comfort zone, and a deep-fried orange did just that.

Three vegetables, each prepared differently, came on the next plate. Patatas bravas, a roast tomato and a stuffed pepper.

Again, those patatas – they’re delicious, but for us, not so bravas. You might try asadas (roasted) instead. More accurate, less contentious — pure roasted flavors, delightful with some charred rosemary on top. They came with a tomato sauce on the side that we’re not quite sure worked.

Also in the trio was a single, stuffed, perfectly roasted tomato. Each flavor balanced, without the need to use salt to extract the umami. Divine.

We also can’t forget the appearance of our fan favorite, the blue cheese stuffed pepper. Make no mistake: If you stuff it with cheese, we will say “yes, please.”

Spaghetti: Al dente, light and the ideal portion you want when you have a dozen other dishes to digest. Those of you with a gluten intolerance and/or disdain for carbs can opt to have their pasta courses served in the form of zucchini noodles. We didn’t know this until the Baratista got his plate and wowed us with his keen eye on calories. We tried both, and – although it’s no pasta – it’s a great alternative if you can’t/won’t eat regular noodles.

Endive salad came up next, the faint bitterness of the leaves cutting the heaviness of the previous course. The rose press was a revelation. It’s something that we would regularly shy away from, but added another layer of flavor to the plate.

A fried cheese was next. Yes, yes, and yes. Creamy, crisp, heaven.

Another trio came up next. Are you full? We were at this point, but not uncomfortably so. We ordered another bottle of house red (the wines are all organic and delicious), and soldiered on.

The aubergine with pesto, balanced and herby; the sundried tomato and ricotta comforting; the roast pepper on a wafer enlightening – as a young, chubby Catholic Sunday school kid, we had often wondered about the alternative culinary uses for the Holy Ghost. Turns out, a capsicum is a wonderful foil to the wafer.

More wine. More food. Couscous. Oh, couscous.

Reader: Let it be known that when Peep Show called couscous “tasteless misery sand”, we agreed whole-heartedly.

Barat’s iteration was flavorful, so we shall refrain from calling it tasteless. Was it still misery sand? It will always be as such for us. You be the judge on this one.

Next was a tiny gazpacho shot that needs to leave the room, immediately. Watermelon-based and with a lingering hint of cinnamon, we don’t understand its place on such a menu. It tastes like watermelon juice that’s been steeped with a wool coat that hasn’t been worn in 30 years: Musty.

More pasta. This time, with pistachio sauce. Again, you can ask for the zoodles, but like Sophia Loren, we owe everything to pasta, so we had the linguini. Loved it. Creamy, and different, owing to the je ne sais quoi of the pistachios. Perhaps too similar to the last pasta dish for some (not us).

More wine.

Dessert. The cake? Yes, OK. The poached fruit? Pleasant, but not Earth-shattering. The sorbet? THE SORBET? Mango. Creamy. Like you walked into an orchard, split one open with your bare hands and bit the flesh. But the flesh was frozen and you were like WHUUUUUUUUT IZ THIS. Incredible, and we want some now.

Conclusion: Barat is a great restaurant, with a noble cause and foundation. It’s the kind of social enterprise-y restaurant that is incredibly lacking in the city’s fine dining, and we hope that it’s the beginning of something that other restaurateurs begin to take into consideration. Respect to local food, respect to local producers and much respect to the Barat owners who decided to do this.

Just, lighten up a bit on the lectures.

 

Barat

19 Lorong Kurau, Taman Bukit Pantai

59100 Kuala Lumpur

Open Monday – Sunday

11.30 am – 2.30 pm

6.30 pm – 11.30 pm

Phone: 010-288 2654

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