The Alila Bangsar faces one of Kuala Lumpur’s main roads where daily traffic reaches to an insufferable degree. Partly to blame for the congestion are the two cultural hubs that stretch out on both sides of the premise: the historic row of Little India and a new neighborhood called Telawi. Melding into this herd of machinery is where you will find yourself because to no surprise for the average Malaysian, getting to the Alila requires a car. The sights that greet you on your way are mostly of the decaying shop-lots that dot the streets with sleepy sellers, reclined on wicker chairs at the foot of the passageways. The old-world charm refuses to disappear as the vehicle plunges forward. The blaring of honks, the humming of wheels and it’s all over. You arrive in front of the frosted doors to a building that coalesces past and present where you leave the smoke and atrophy behind.
The space that awaits past the entry is illuminated with warm light, dimmed for intimacy and a mass of tall greenery is planted into the center of the dark wood floor. The glazed walls do not permit light to penetrate and focus is called to the single elevator at the rear side of the room. The Alila is known for being a participant of ‘sustainable tourism’ and one of their energy-efficient practices includes tinting the windows to minimize the amount of heat that enters the building, maintaining an ideal temperature throughout your stay a -significant and rare feature in a city of humidity. Another sustainable practice that exists here is reducing the number of lifts in operation. A button embossed on the silver panel inside the elevator is labeled forty-one. Zooming upwards into the skyscraper, the journey feels natural.
The doors open and sunshine spills onto the wooden floors from the floor-length windows that cocoon the lobby of the Alila. Pillars of white positioned at the edge of the room separate the pockets of plush seats, accompanied by low tables made out of Balau wood and atop each of them is a miniature version of the Southeast Asian mancala – a boardgame of old, played by the previous generations. These are local touches that evoke Malaysia without feeling forced. What catches the eye is the landscaped garden of vivid green trees in the middle of the reception area, complemented with narrow golden rails that encase long rows of gray stone. You are offered to take a seat amongst the wild. This greenery stays alive through harvested rainwater, a green initiative by this establishment. The premise is certified as bronze status by EarthCheck, a benchmarking program by the travel and tourism industry that monitors the operational methods of the building; energy and emissions to water and waste. These features and their added details speak of a Twenty-first century home experience. Then the structure breaks open. A staircase at the back end of the lobby leads to the courtyard where the nucleus of the Alila lives.
All movement that occurs in the building converges here. The path to the courtyard is taken through a set of stairs and acts as a stage where one can see and be seen. The swimming pool is joined together with the open atrium where the water is natural chlorine generated from salt, an option that is both sustainable and safe. The boundary between the exterior and the interior begins to blur and as you step up into the courtyard, it is a revelation of its own. Internationally renowned architectural design practice, Neri & Hu wanted to reinforce the continuation of the greenery landscape from the inside to the outside through crafting the open enclosure. Elevated three stories high, the grid of columns and beams frames the panorama of outer Bangsar while protecting guests from the surrounding bustle of the city. Nature being inserted into architecture binds all of the public spaces of the Alila together. Looking out onto the ant-sized paths from the raised atrium, you register that you have been transported elsewhere — an urban oasis in the heart of the tropical city. With that, an understanding of the name of the establishment forms … Alila is Sanskrit for ‘surprise’.
Your journey begins when you are led to the Living Room from the check-in desk. This is a communal area on your floor where unlimited access to local snacks and a 3M filtration system, dedicated to a clean drinking water supply, ensure that you are well-fed and hydrated. As a paperless environment, the check-in process is completed via a smart tablet, and you have the option to get your morning newspaper and magazines by downloading the Alila app. A few taps here and a click there, you are ready to enter into your Malaysian ‘hut’. Creating parallels to a small village, as that was all Kuala Lumpur was back in the day, the rooms at this establishment are functioning indoor spaces where sections of daily living are confined. The bathroom in each space is a floating cabin inserted into this traditional hut structure and a free flow of movement is created around the room. On the inside, a diverse range of toiletries is presented in paper packaging while soap can be dispensed from dark bamboo bottles and toothbrushes are made from the same material. Absent from the rooms are plastic bottles of water commonplace in other accommodations and instead, you will find glass bottles full to the brim — refillable at the Living Room.
A respite from the sticky city can leave you curious and it’s time to venture out to explore the other venues that converge around the Alila’s courtyard that are, safe to say, equally exciting. At the rear end of the reception level, hidden in plain sight is one of the best French fine-dining restaurants in the country called Entier. The eatery is founded on the concept of nose-to-tail dining where every component of the animal is respected by being incorporated into a delectable dish. Masashi Horiuchi spearheads the kitchen and brings his experience as a former sous chef at the two Michelin-star L-Atelier de Joel Robuchon in London. He fuses his Japanese roots into the French dishes served at Entier to eager guests. The art of fine-dining can be easily dismissed by locals as an opportunity reserved only for special occasions or for the rich and powerful. It is a common expression that to partake in fine dining is to only leave yourself hungry for the evening as a meal with a hearty portion of rice is the only way to satiate the Malaysian stomach. Entier has turned this notion on its head by attracting large crowds of locals and showing no signs of stopping even after a year of opening its doors. An explanation for that could be rooted in the restaurant’s belief in the spirit of communal dining and the diverse range of sharing plates that are available on its menu. The traditional Malaysian dining experience is a happily shared one and this is where familiarity and locality are injected into the modern eatery.
The conversation of French fine-dining taking place in the tropics is elevated further at Entier as Chef Masashi Horiuchi crafts his dishes based on issues of environment, health, and sustainability. The fresh produce at the restaurant comes straight from farm to kitchen and on its way spends less than five hours on the road. Organic heirloom vegetables are provided by Weeds and More, a farm located in the country’s native highlands. The main dishes from the menu are grouped into a variety of proteins. Anxin chickens that have been air-flown from France where they have been bred in open, airy barns without the use of antibiotics or hormones. Offals that you will sink your teeth into are sourced from the most ethical sources. Black tea-poached octopus and muddy crabs are transported from the coast of Taiwan. Before burrowing into the plate, your culinary journey at Entier begins with house-baked bread slathered with briny kombu butter. Once satisfied, your nightcap is a cocktail served at the Pacific Standard Bar adjacent to the restaurant. Here is a vision of American opulence harking back to the 1960s. Come and have a glass on the courtyard as the sky reddens and the air cools. At all hours of the day, the spaces that meet this square are active and buzzing. No details are to miss here at the Alila.
East Side, 58, Jalan Ang Seng, Brickfields,
50470 Kuala Lumpur, Malesia