On the other hand, what respectable food blog can ignore such an institition? So I gathered five family members and made our way there for dinner one Saturday night. The Coliseum, as any Klang Valley folk would know, is located on the busy Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur. I would not even bother name any nearby landmark. In fact, if at all, it should be the landmark for other places.
I had not been there for many many years - perhaps twenty or more. And nothing had changed. I guess this place has changed very little over the past 90 years since its establishment in 1921. The aura in the main dining hall is like you are in the early 1900s. Everything seem so ancient - the wall, the ceiling, the lights, the fans and the unconcealed electrical wirings. They still have large hooks on the wall where you hang your coats or jackets - that is, if you still wear a coat when you go out for dinner.
Next to the dining hall is the bar. It is difficult to find bars like this in Malaysia now. It is like a scene from an old movie. It exults the charm that perhaps only people in our age group would appreciate. Next to the bar counter are some nice old comfortable settees where those "jolly old chaps" in the colonial era probably had relaxed with their drinks.
There are some pictures and cuttings on the wall that bespeak the place's historical glory. But the pictures are few. I had the brief opportunity to browse through them. I wished there were more such pictures to record its historical prestige.
I recognized Captain Morgan from a television documentary. I went over, put my arm over his shoulders and led him to our table to take our orders. Capt Morgan speaks the Hainamese dialect and at our prompting spoke several sentences, which put me to shame for in spite of my roots I am not able to do the same.
The waiters here all wear the traditional white jackets. This uncle is over 90 years old. According to Capt Morgan, he has been working in the Coliseum for over 50 years. He was a little grumpy and because of that, I dared not approach to ask his name.
After the preliminary talks and survey of the place, we got down to the serious business of our dinner for the evening. We started with some soups. My oxtail was not too bad. It was flavorful and had good pieces of meat in it which I quite enjoyed.
But this bowl of mushroom soup (which I did not taste) was apparently like a can of Campbell.
Likewise the onion soup. It was watery and did not taste good at all.
The garlic bread was absolutely ancient - toasted coffee shop bread with a spread of garlic in butter.
My main course was the roast chicken with turkey ham. It wasn't bad. But if you are looking for good gourmet food, this wasn't it. It was a roasted thigh with mushroom gravy, topped with a slice of turkey ham and served with some fries. The accompanying vege was plain boiled french beans.
My wife struggled with her plate of chicken chop ala Hainanese style. It looked most unimaginative. It was a piece of deep fried chicken topped with a tomato sauce with some green peas, union and tomato. It was served with fries. She swore it was the worst piece of chicken chop she ever had.
SP had the lamb chop. It looked good. I hijacked a piece of it and it tasted good as well. It was served with the same sauce and accompaniments as my roast chicken. The portion of lamb looked generous. But he said it was mainly bones and he came out of the restaurant complaining that his stomach was only half filled.
The Coliseum is famed for its sizzling steaks. Only Crystal opted for it. She had a piece of rib eye. It came out sizzling on a hot plate, drowned in mushroom sauce. The accompaniments were typically unimaginative of the place - a roasted tomato, baked potatoes and some boiled cauliflower and broccoli. I had a piece of the meat and it was nice and tender. Crystal enjoyed it too.
All the dishes were so devoid of vegetables and greens. We decided to add on some salad and asked the 90 year old uncle for recommendations. He grumpily said "Garden salad lor" which we readily agreed in awe of him. It turned out like this, served with Thousand Islands...
The cream caramel we shared for dessert was a total failure. It was like tofu, only not as soft. It had no taste of cream caramel at all. It looked like they made a large piece of it and cut it to smaller servings.
The other dessert we had was better but it was just ordinary ice cream topped canned apricot. Anything would be better than the cream caramel.
Coffee was the typical kopi-o from our coffee shops except they provide the sugar and milk separately.
Food wise, the Coliseum was a disappointment. In spite of its fame and history and perhaps because of its unchanged tradition, the food they served was as if they are trapped in a culinary time wrap.
But for me, it was definitely worth the visit. I liked the aura and the history. I imagined how KL was 90 years ago. I imagined how past dignitaries had walked in and out of the place. We perhaps had even dined at the same table and sat on the same chairs that they did. And since the food there apparently also had not changed over the years, I got an idea what people ate those days and what it took to sate their appetites.