A taste of chef Ismail’s Malaysia

‘This is not a snobbish restaurant,’ said the ever-gregarious Ismail, whose flair for storytelling outnumbers the sheer number of antique items displayed in his restaurant.

GROUP photo with fellow travel writers and vloggers during the Cebu Pacific and Tourism Malaysia’s famtrip in Kuala Lumpur. | photographs courtesy of Marky Ramone Go

Entering a nondescript building atypical of the ones where popular restaurants are usually located puzzled us a bit as to where we were heading. It was only when the elevator door opened that we saw a wide entrance leading to a buffet table that we knew.

“This is it,” someone said as we peered inside to see a gathering of diners enjoying a lavish banquet. Outside the door were tables and shelves brimming with antiques that captured my interest briefly before I heard a jovial greeting from someone welcoming us.

Restoran Rebung is a one-stop place to sample the best of Malaysian cuisine.

“Hello, come in, come in,” said a cheerful man who could have been in his 60s but had the energy of someone much younger. Waving us inside the restaurant, he then introduced himself simply as chef Ismail.

“Eat to your heart’s desire,” he commanded with humor before remembering to show us around his place first. “I have an interesting collection that you must see, come follow me.”

As chef Ismail’s effervescent personality became more apparent to me, I had a feeling we were not only going to be nourished by food, but also some fantastic stories.

Visual delights

With the mantra of “come hungry, leave satisfied,” Restoran Rebung Chef Ismail offers more than just gastronomical satisfaction, especially if you meet its owner, celebrity chef and Malaysian tourism ambassador Dato chef Ismail Ahmad.

Fortunately for us, before we could even take our initial dig on the buffet table, we were already being fed with chef Dato’s enthralling tales. It only increased our craving for Restoran Rebung’s offerings.

A candid conversationalist with an infectious chuckle, chef Ismail welcomes all guests as if they were old friends in his own house while they enjoy a spread of the finest Malaysian grub.

EVERY dish has its story.

“This is not a snobbish restaurant,” said the ever-gregarious Ismail, whose flair for storytelling outnumbers the sheer number of antique items displayed in his restaurant. “If someone buys this from me for a million ringgit, I will still not sell it,” he added, as he pointed out a 100-year-old door displayed on a wall of his restaurant.

Other than the innumerable vintage items, the location of this Kuala Lumpur restaurant at a rooftop of a carpark building adds a fascinating peculiarity made quirkier by its beautiful vibrant deco design screaming of nostalgic kampung atmosphere.

For a place built to provide excellent culinary experiences, Restoran Rebung also pops with visual delights and generates an environment where diners become comfortable sharing stories across tables.

Happiness on a plate

When it comes to food, Restoran Rebung serves dishes that are inspired by Chef Ismail’s Negeri Sembilan roots (located in the southwest part of Malaysia) such as his Grandma’s original take on Nasi Lemak, Nasi Kelantan, Laksa, Ayam Percik, as well as several types of desserts from the East Coast like Kui Tikam, Kuih Serabai, Kuih Ubi and many more.

Already an icon in the Malaysian culinary scene, chef Ismail now takes on a new hat as Malaysian Tourism Ambassador. “How come I don’t have two million followers?” he asked the Malaysian Tourism staff who were with us (he currently has 13,000 on Instagram). “You should help me do something about it,” he quipped, followed by a prolonged snicker.

Restoran Rebung also pops with visual delights.

Chef Ismail, I thought, should have no trouble expanding his web presence. His charisma and enthusiasm are enough to win almost any audience.

The rapid filling up of available seats in his restaurant attests to the reality of his fan base. The countless guests that flock to Restoran Rebung’s odd location represent genuine patronage.

Chef Ismail’s creative contributions to Malaysian cuisine, which combine the country’s rich cultural heritage with modern techniques, deserve more attention, but he doesn’t need six to seven figures next to a blue check mark to his name — all because he has already made his indelible mark in Malaysian cuisine.

Living up to its mantra, suffice it to say, Restoran Rebung left us fully satisfied.

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