Emma Johnston

Correspondent

  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Asia

Emma Johnston is a correspondent who lives in Kuala Lumpur and covers the area for Forbes Travel Guide. She’s a keen observer of the growing independent fashion scene in KL, and her fashion, food and travel articles can be found in Time Out Kuala Lumpur, Time Out Chicago, Time Out Hong Kong, Expatriate Lifestyle and Vision KL. Johnston regularly discusses culture and events in Kuala Lumpur on radio station BFM 89.9, and talks beauty and fashion on the lifestyle website she co-founded, Two Girls Times.

  • On April 21, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best restaurants in Kuala Lumpur?

    Bistro A Table
    Run by the controversial (and sometimes cantankerous) chef Isadora Chai, Bistro A Table is a restaurant that specialises in experimental French cuisine. It’s out in a quiet suburb, and in her kitchen Chai rolls out a different degustation menu every Monday, and clever, delicious dishes the rest of the week. Some of her triumphs have included a mangosteen pavlova and a dessert involving warm ginger ale, cinnamon ice cream and a ginger soufflé.
    www.bistroatable.com

    Yut Kee
    Yut Kee is an institution in KL – on weekday mornings you’ll find old men chatting over cups of black coffee and toast, and on the weekends you’ll have to share tables with strangers or risk being turned away. The coffee shop is unpretentious and serves a quintessentially Malaysian mix of food and drink – the aforementioned black coffee (with a slurry of brown sugar lurking at the bottom of the cup), crisp toast slathered with margarine and coconut jam (kaya in the local tongue), chicken and pork chops, soup noodles, marble cake, even an excellent roast pork on the weekends, if you’re lucky.

    Hutong at Lot 10 Shopping Centre
    Not a restaurant per se, Hutong is a literal collection of the best things to eat in KL. It’s an upscale food court designed to look like a down scale market, and features some of the most famous hawker stalls in KL’s food scene. You’ll find renditions of favourites like char kuey teow (wok-fried wide rice noodles), wantan mee (noodles with dumplings), chicken rice (self-explanatory) and even, bizarrely, German pork knuckles. Prices are slightly inflated of course, due to city-centre rental rates, but the food is almost as authentic as at the original stalls, and arranged for the utmost convenience. Try as many stalls as you can.

    PRIME at Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur
    If you have a lot of money to drop on a steak dinner, you won’t find a better, or more expensive, steak in the country. PRIME’s menu is a compendium of steak, with Kobe, Black Angus and a lot of wagyu featuring very heavily. Choose your meat, select your cooking preference, choose from a bewildering range of sauces and sides and then loosen your belt in anticipation. And prepare your wallet.
    www.lemeridienkualalumpur.com
  • On April 21, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best restaurants in Kuala Lumpur?

    Bistro A Table
    Run by the controversial (and sometimes cantankerous) chef Isadora Chai, Bistro A Table is a restaurant that specialises in experimental French cuisine. It’s out in a quiet suburb, and in her kitchen Chai rolls out a different degustation menu every Monday, and celver, delicious dishes the rest of the week. Some of her triumphs have included a mangosteen pavlova and a dessert involving warm ginger ale, cinnamon ice cream and a ginger soufflé.
    www.bistroatable.com

    Yut Kee
    Yut Kee is an institution in KL – on weekday mornings you’ll find old men chatting over cups of black coffee and toast, and on the weekends you’ll have to share tables with strangers or risk being turned away. The coffee shop is unpretentious and serves a quintessentially Malaysian mix of food and drink – the aforementioned black coffee (with a slurry of brown sugar lurking at the bottom of the cup), crisp toast slathered with margarine and coconut jam (kaya in the local tongue), chicken and pork chops, soup noodles, marble cake, even an excellent roast pork on the weekends, if you’re lucky.

    Hutong at Lot 10 Shopping Centre
    Not a restaurant per se, Hutong is a literal collection of the best things to eat in KL. It’s an upscale food court designed to look like a down scale market, and features some of the most famous hawker stalls in KL’s food scene. You’ll find renditions of favourites like char kuey teow (wok-fried wide rice noodles), wantan mee (noodles with dumplings), chicken rice (self-explanatory) and even, bizarrely, German pork knuckles. Prices are slightly inflated of course, due to city-centre rental rates, but the food is almost as authentic as at the original stalls, and arranged for the utmost convenience. Try as many stalls as you can.

    PRIME at Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur
    If you have a lot of money to drop on a steak dinner, you won’t find a better, or more expensive, steak in the country. PRIME’s menu is a compendium of steak, with Kobe, Black Angus and a lot of wagyu featuring very heavily. Choose your meat, select your cooking preference, choose from a bewildering range of sauces and sides and then loosen your belt in anticipation. And prepare your wallet.
    www.lemeridienkualalumpur.com
  • On April 21, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    Where is the best shopping in Kuala Lumpur?

    1. Pavilion KL
    If there’s one thing KL excels at, it’s shopping malls. And of those shopping malls, Pavilion is the best – the shiniest, the most comprehensive, and the most customer-friendly. Perched in prime real estate on Jalan Bukit Bintang, the Oxford Circus of KL, the mall management faced considerable controversy when it bought and demolished a very old and prestigious school to build today’s mall on its grounds. But all is forgiven by Malaysian and tourist shoppers – where else can you find Prada alongside Padini (one of Malaysia’s super retail chains)? International designers sit cheek by jowl with Malaysian boutiques, the best of the high street chains (Zara and Topshop have quite a presence here) and, of course, plenty of good restaurants. When you tire of shopping, have an alfresco coffee by the boulevard, or sit yourself and your shopping bags at Pavilion’s recreation of the Spanish steps.
    www.pavilion-kl.com

    2. Publika
    Publika is one of the newest malls in Kuala Lumpur, and definitely the most different. Its opening was a revelation in Malaysian retail – a space designed not to fit the maximum capacity of shops, but to be a beautiful art and retail space. Galleries, installations and random pieces of graffiti are scattered among the shops, of which most are independent boutiques and local labels. There’s an outdoors stage where open air concerts and plays are held, several commendable cafes and resturants facing the square, and an avant garde playground for the children. While you’re there, check out thirtyfour, a local leather label that specialises in hand-crafted bags and shoes, and Outdated, a vintage furniture shop that stocks a surprising quantity of restored Eames chairs.
    www.publika.com.my

    3. Bangsar Baru
    Bangsar is the young, urban capital of this capital city. An inner city suburb jam packed with cafes, bars and boutiques, it accommodates hundreds of expats, hipsters and those with plenty of disposable income on the weekends. Shopping-wise, the excellent Bangsar Village malls (there’s part one and part two, right next to each other) house a mixture of family-friendly stores, including some great eco-friendly baby stores, high street labels, jewellery places and high-end makeup. On the streets outside the malls, you’ll find pretty, quirky boutiques catered to teenage girls and fans of Korean fashion – that is, flirty, frilly and floral.
    www.bangsarvillage.com

    4. Lebuh Ampang
    For those looking for more buys of a more local slant, newly gazette Little India street Lebuh Ampang is the place to go. You’ll find a huge variety of Indian fashion, jewellery and sundry goods – calendars emblazoned with the faces of Bollywood stars, colourful printed silks, old-fashioned tins of Yardley talcum powder, curry spices and facial ointments.

    5. Chinatown
    Eschew the stalls selling tourist tat, and look behind them – in the main thoroughfare of Chinatown, Petaling Street, and the surrounding roads and alleyways, vendors who have been there for years will be selling far more unusual things. Venus Art Shop on Petaling Street is a time-honoured institution selling everything to do with art, including delicate rice paper and traditional Chinese calligraphy brushes. Wander a little further to Jalan Tun HS Lee and you’ll find Peter Hoe Beyond, possibly one of the best shops in KL. Peter sources beautiful homeware and fabrics from all across the region, and his shop is a riot of colour, pattern and lovely things. (There’s also a little café in one corner of the shop that serves impeccable cake.) Explore the small shops selling dried fruits, traditional Chinese medicines, hand-carved wooden fans – you won’t be disappointed.
  • On April 17, 2013
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  • On April 16, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best things to do in Kuala Lumpur?

    1. Heritage walk through the old city
    Kuala Lumpur is home to some beautiful architecture that is slowly falling apart due to lack of government interest in restoration. But you can still see some incredible examples of Art Deco, Moorish inspired facades and colonial vestiges from the British occupation. Join a walking tour like Rakan KL that will take you through the old business district of KL, and point out historical landmarks and heritage sites.
    www.rakankl.com

    2. Hike through the quartz ridge at Bukit Tabur
    Bukit Tabur is a long stretch of mountain that features possibly the world’s longest outcrop of quartz. From a distance, it’s absolutely beautiful – you can see it shimmering in the sunlight. Up close, it’s even more spectacular, though also slightly hazardous. If you’re a seasoned hiker, the trail across the quartz ridge is a challenging, but enjoyable, route. If you’re more of a walker, there are gentler paths to follow, that will still afford an excellent view of the surrounding forest and the city in the distance.

    3. Visit the city’s night markets
    The pasar malam, or night market, is an idiosyncratically Malaysian institution. Each suburb has their weekly night market on a different day of the week, at which time fruit and vegetable sellers set up camp on a certain road, together with butchers and fishmongers, sellers of local snacks, cakes, drinks and desserts. Sometimes you can even find replica football jerseys, or universal TV remotes. It’s a bit like a farmer’s market, but a whole lot noisier. Try the market at Bangsar, one of KL’s most stylish suburbs. It’s on every Sunday, from 4pm ’til very late.

    4. Shape some pewter at the Royal Selangor School of Hard Knocks
    Royal Selangor pewter is a fairly ubiquitous Malaysian souvenir – chances are you’ll pick up at least one thing from one of their stores scattered generously across KL’s malls. If you fancy a more unusual day out (and this is great for those traveling with kids), you can easily catch a bus to their workshop and visitor centre out in Setapak. Here you’ll find an even wider array of pewter goods, and you’ll be able to peer through glass windows at craftsmen moulding, shaping and carving pewter. The more interesting part of this exercise is the chance to make your own pewter bowl – in a sound-proofed room, you’ll be coached through the whole process which, essentially, involves hammering a sheet of pewter with a mallet. Good for those with stress issues.
    www.royalselangor.com

    5. Eat your way through Chinatown
    Petaling Street, or Chinatown, on first sight is not so different from any Chinatown you could find across the world. There’s plenty of shouting, wet pavements, counterfeit goods and a whole lot of roast duck. But if you can ignore the trays of ‘Rolex’ watches and racks of ‘LV’ bags, you’ll find hidden behind them food stalls that have been operating for decades. Try the famous frog leg porridge at Hon Kee, or dim sum at Yook Woo Hin. If you’re early enough you’ll be able to buy some of the city’s best roast duck by the parcel at Sze Ngan Chye and eat it as you walk down the street.
  • On April 16, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best attractions in Kuala Lumpur?

    1. Petronas Twin Towers
    At the time of their construction, the Petronas Twin Towers (known locally as just the Twin Towers) were the tallest in the world, though these days they’ve been relegated to sixth and seventh place. They’re still an awe-inspiring sight though – 88 floors of glittering steel and glass, visible from nearly anywhere in Kuala Lumpur, despite the increasingly congested skyline. The architecture has been variously claimed to symbolize a giant ‘M’ for Malaysia, motifs of basket-weaving, a traditional local craft, and even an upward-pointing arrow to depict the country’s progress and aspirations.

    You can visit the Skybridge that links the two towers on the 41st floor (get there early in the morning, as passes are free, but limited) or go right up to the observation deck on the 88th floor. When you tire of the view, there’s Suria KLCC, one of the city’s best malls, right at the foot of the tower.
    www.petronastwintowers.com.my

    2. Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia
    Unfortunately the National Museum (or Muzium Negara) in KL is a somewhat dusty institution – skip that and make straight for the Islamic Arts Museum. It’s a beautifully designed piece of architecture, referencing traditional and modern Islamic structures. Inside is an exceptionally well-curated collection of artefacts, artworks and replicas. Each year the museum brings in an acclaimed traveling exhibition as well.
    www.iamm.org.my

    3. Masjid Jamek
    Masjid Jamek, or Jamek Mosque, is a beautiful example of Moorish architecture in Kuala Lumpur. The mosque occupies prime real estate in the centre of the city, and can be a restful escape from the noise and traffic of the CBD. It sits at the intersection of the Klang and Gombak rivers – the ‘muddy confluence’ that gave Kuala Lumpur its name. Visiting hours are changeable and visitors required to cover up, but if you’re turned away wander along the river banks where you’ll find the old law courts, and slightly further on, some of the best graffiti on show in KL.

    4. Dataran Merdeka and the Sultan Abdul Samad building
    Dataran Merdeka, or Independence Square, is the historic location where Malaysia’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, declared independence for Malaysia in 1957. Back then it was a cricket grounds, but today the square is a well-kept lawn, backed by the mock-Tudor Royal Selangor Club, and fronted by the iconic Sultan Abdul Samad building. Another lovely example of Moorish architecture, the building used to house the Federal Court and the Court of Appeals, as well as various other administrative departments.

    5. Menara Kuala Lumpur and the Bukit Nanas forest reserve
    Before the Petronas Twin Towers came along, Menara Kuala Lumpur (KL Tower) was the city’s biggest claim to fame. The communications tower is looking a little dated today, but still commands an excellent view of KL. Make your way to the observation deck for a 360 degrees view of the city, or to the revolving restaurant for a gently spinning meal. Just behind the tower is the Bukit Nanas forest reserve, one of KL’s few remaining green lungs. Take a walk and you may be lucky enough to spot a slow-moving monitor lizard – the rest of the fauna have long left the city. The virgin rainforest is a spectacular sight though, especially contrasted against the highway right next to it.
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