Shantini Ingkaran at her new health café, Organica Lifestyle.
From vegetarian burgers that boast luscious patties made with mushrooms, beets and quinoa to gluten-free chocolate cakes baked with almond flour, the menu at Ashley’s – one of the most notable restaurants to open in Bangsar this past year – underscores how wholesome food is fast gaining momentum in Kuala Lumpur.
Edible signs of a health boom are everywhere. Only a year ago, few customers had ever heard of cold-pressed juices. Now, bottles of these trendy beverages, which pack more vitamins, minerals and enzymes than traditional juices, can be spotted at scores of cafes across the Klang Valley.
Meanwhile, new salad bars have been popping up in many high-traffic office complexes and malls, such as The Intermark and 1 Mont Kiara Mall, catering to the city’s increasing number of fitness-conscious residents with low-guilt fare.
“Healthy eating is not a fad – it’s a fresh trend that will last for a very long time,” predicts Shantini Ingkaran, a Malaysian-born wellness trainer who recently moved from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur to open a new health café called Organica Lifestyle in Bangsar.
Organica Lifestyle represents what the new breed of nutrition-focused eateries offer. Customers can expect brunches of raw cacao pancakes made with brown rice flour, washed down with cold-pressed juices comprising spinach, watercress, coconut, lemon, pear, peppermint & grape seed oil. The shelves here are filled with food products that can be purchased to take home, including organic oat beverages, nut spreads and vegan-suitable tea.
Shantini says that a rise in public awareness about beneficial diets is fuelling new F&B business opportunities. Shantini herself became more conscious of what she ate after suffering a health scare that she partly attributed to stress in her previous career as a lawyer.
“Food can heal and restore, and that’s what more and more people want,” she says.
Nevertheless, several hurdles await potential health restaurant owners.
Nutrient-rich cold-pressed juices are becoming increasingly popular in KL.
Philip Yiin, a certified health consultant who founded Living Food Bistro in Menara Tan & Tan in 2012, making it one of the pioneers in KL’s wholesome food scene, says managing food supply and costs can be a struggle.
“It has been rather challenging in Malaysia, as a lot of stuff readily available in many countries is not available here,” such as raw milk cheeses and wild-caught pearl snapper fish and prawns, which Yiin personally flies in from Sarawak to substitute farmed seafood, he explains.
“Our food costs are higher than the regular supermarket varieties, but we manage by being innovative with processes and by having as little wastage as possible,” he adds. “But our profit margins are lower than industry norms, which means less of a budget for awareness and adverts.”
And while public consciousness is growing, Yiin notes that the overwhelming number of KL’s consumers still favour convenience and fast food instead of hunting for health restaurants.
The son and daughters of health consultant Philip Yiin at their family-run health restaurant, Ashley’s in Bangsar.
“Most people take better care of their tech gadgets than their body engines,” Yiin says. “We do find better awareness from international customers as they seek us out after checking information from sites like TripAdvisor.”
Still, Yiin is upbeat about business prospects. He and his family opened their second outlet, Ashley’s, in Bangsar last year – the restaurant is named after Yiin’s daughter, a skilled young chef who bakes red yeast buns for their burgers and crafts inventive soups crowned with chia and hemp seeds.
Their third venue, focusing on takeaway options, is expected to launch in KLCC this year, and their team also plans to run a corporate wellness programme in a collaboration with the U.N.’s Malaysian outpost and business councils.
“’Real Food’ is the next evolution in food as awareness continues to spread,” Yiin says.
Raw milk cheese baked in a red yeast bun, topped with almonds, cranberries and balsamic reduction, served with flax seed crackers at Ashley’s.